The Thirteenth

2009

The proceedings came to order in the back room of an abandoned Somali warehouse.

There were seven of them, all unnamed. They stood in veiled booths; only their silhouettes were visible. When they spoke, they spoke with one Voice. They were all the same. Their Voice was the Voice of the Insurgency.

A man weathered by experience stood before them; his eyes were a piercing shade of blue, with greying black hair and a thin beard. He wore a dark jacket with a red and white emblem sewn into the chest. He held his head up, his right hand idly spinning something in his pocket.

Bramimond St. Armand,” the Voice said, its metallic tone cutting the silence like a hot knife, “you begged the presence of the Delta Command.

It is uncommon for us to meet in such a strange place.

And in one so exposed.

And for one so nearing the end of his rope.

Bramimond nodded. “I understand and appreciate the nature of this meeting. It would not have happened this way if there were any other.”

Doubtless,” the Voice said. “Yet you have sought our attention on four other occasions—

Five other occasions,” the Voice corrected itself, ”there was Bolivia.

Yes, five other occasions. Five other frivolous hypotheticals and inconsequential arguments. So many we grew tired of your antics and had you cast out from the Insurgency, if memory serves.

Cast out, and yet here you stand.

We have been curious of your motives, Bramimond. This curiosity alone is why you received this audience.

Speak plainly. Do not assume our patience again.

Bramimond nodded. “I know in the past my requests might have seemed frivolous. They were questions that needed to be asked, and the information I received, though meaningless to you, was of incredible value to me. I can tell you that I have always been devoted wholly to the purpose of the Insurgency. I’ve come here to talk to you about that purpose. I want to ask about the Summa Modus Operandi.”

The Voice was silent for a moment. Bramimond could hear the soft sound of uncomfortable shuffling.

You have wasted our time again, Bramimond,” the Voice said, the tone now agitated. “The Summa Modus Operandi is a riddle with no solution. There is nothing to ask.

Bramimond gritted his teeth. “Humor me. What is the core tenant of the document?”

We must destroy the Thirteen Foundation Overseers.

“What’s stopping us from doing that?”

The Voice barked out a mocking laugh. “The Foundation Overseers have made themselves unto gods. They found a frayed string in the fabric of creation and pulled on it, and have since used the corruption they brought into this world to robe themselves in darkness. They are outside of the grasp of mortal men.

Bramimond nodded slowly. “Alright, that much we agree on. But you say outside the grasp of mortal men. Even gods can be killed, as you well know. What makes them different?”

They cannot be killed. They have a contract with Death itself, to stay its hand whenever it draws near. In exchange, they gave Death the Thirteenth Overseer; they gave Death a place on their council.

“So to destroy the Overseers, you would need to kill the Thirteenth first. Is that right?”

Another choked laugh. “Yes, Bramimond. You would merely need to cheat Death.

Is this what brought you here? More childish hypotheticals and vague implications?

Speak plainly. This Delta Command grows tired of your charade. What do you want?

Bramimond paused, fishing for the item in his pocket. When his hand pulled back, it held a small vial of a bright, shimmering liquid. He held it in front of his face. The seven murmured behind him.

What is that?” Bramimond could hear the flutter of uncertainty.

“If you could break the contract, what then?”

The Voice was silent again. Whispers surrounded Bramimond. He was suddenly aware of the presence of something great and terrible; something whose furious attention he had gained. In the stillness of the warehouse, behind arcana and beneath the world above, the presence passed through — and then it was gone.

Then, for just a moment, the Voice dissolved into many.

Death cannot be killed.

No, it is a force beyond—

The Fountain was dry, they emptied—

-does not matter, even if he-

It knows, It knows, we have said too much already, we-

—it would become possible to destroy the Thirteen Foundation Overseers.

It would be possible to fulfill the Summa Modus Operandi.

The many fell quiet. Bramimond felt their gazes from behind their curtains. He was being studied intensely. Finally, he heard another voice among them; that of a woman. She spoke clearly:

“Where did you find that?”

Bramimond returned the vial to his pocket. “Service to the Insurgency is the only thing that I have ever known. It is the only thing that gave me any meaning. Without it, I had nothing. So I walked.” He took a deep breath. “I don’t know which path I followed, but I found myself standing on a cliff above the sea. The water stretched out as far as I could see — then twisted its way upward and filled the sky. Someone found me there. They gave it to me.”

“Who were they? What did they say to you?” another of them said, a man.

“They…” He hesitated, “I don’t know. But they told me that existence is sick. The cancer spreading from the Overwatch Command will infect not only this world, but all worlds. They said… they asked me to make this right. To break their contract. Deliver this medicine. Kill the cancer.”

A curtain was pulled aside. Bramimond took a startled step back; his hand slid to the firearm at his belt. The person on the other side lifted a hand and pulled themselves into view. It was a young man in a dark grey suit; he had sandy blonde hair. Younger than me, Bramimond thought.

The young man spoke:

“You stand at a precipice, Bramimond St. Armand. The Engineer designed the Summa Modus Operandi to give us purpose, but never expected it to be fulfilled. We… we have been tasked to direct our Insurgency’s actions, but with this… this is the Insurgency’s purpose. This is all that matters.”

Each stepped out of their booths in turn. One was a tall man with long dark hair; another was an elderly woman in a silver wheelchair. There was a pregnant woman, a young girl with grey eyes, a man with an American flag pin on his vest — and one he could not even describe.

They stood before him, each granting Bramimond their undivided attention.

What do you need?” the Voice said.


2010

A jagged black spear pierced the stormy waters of the southern Atlantic, looming with silent malevolence. Bramimond stood on the ship’s prow as the tower came into view. He could feel the mnestics burning in his mind; he could see the shimmering glow of the tower’s anomalous nature. A scar, he thought.

“What is it?” he heard Vanessa say as she took her place beside him. “It’s magic, right? A cognitohazard, maybe?”

“No, not a cognitohazard. It’s an antimeme. The Foundation didn’t build this. Something else did, a long time ago. Whatever they built it for isn’t there anymore, so the Foundation has repurposed it.” He laughed. “How do you escape a prison you don’t even realize you’re in? Or in our case, how do you find something that isn’t on any map? That can’t even be on a map?”

Vanessa shrugged. “I was wondering the same thing. How’d you find where this was?”

Bramimond produced a small grey journal. “This was the personal journal of one of our finest agents, someone who had studied the Overseers and their methods for decades. It sat in a box for years before somebody realized its worth. When Skitter Marshall picked it up, he realized he’d struck gold.”

“So how much did it cost?”

Bramimond eyed her sideways. “Nothing. Ivan stole it, of course. The boys at Micky D’s think they’re very clever, but they always forget the most important bit. It’s not just about how much money you have. It’s also about who you know.” He gestured towards the wheelhouse. Ivan was underneath it, gripping a pole for dear life. “And I know the best thief.”

Vanessa looked back toward the tower. “It’s beautiful, in a way. Otherworldly.”

“It is.”

A wave smashed against the side of the ship, surging up in front of them in a blanket of freezing sea foam. Bramimond instinctively reached out to shield her. Vanessa stepped back, but gave him a smile.

The muted whine of the foghorn rose up behind them. Bramimond turned and hurled himself up the stairs of the wheelhouse. There, Vincent Arians gruffly tugged at the wheel — in-between taking long, hard puffs from the fat stogie that dangled out the side of his mouth.

“This is stupid, Bram,” Arians said, furiously chomping on the cigar. “There’s nowhere to land. I haven’t even been on a ship in sixteen years. This was your plan?”

Bramimond squinted at the tower. Their mnestics would only last so long; afterwards, they wouldn’t even be able to perceive the accursed thing. This had to be quick — and the seas were not helping.

“The entrance is above,” Bramimond pointed towards an opening in the rocky face. “Think you can get us up there?”

Arians looked at him like he was mad. “I’ll get something up there. I hope you don’t need the boat afterwards.”

Bramimond slapped him on the back and grinned. “There are always more boats.”

Arians rolled his eyes and spun the wheel, bringing their ship around. “The next swell, we’re going to gun it. Tell them to hold on down there, because the only way we get this done is by wrecking the boat. You get that, right? This’ll wreck the boat.”

Bramimond nodded.

“Alright, then. Let’s wreck the boat.” ← lmao I love this

Bramimond scurried down the stairs to find the others. Vanessa and Ivan were in the hallway; Ivan looked ready to vomit. He grabbed them both and pulled them toward the galley, shoving them toward a pillar. “Stay here and hold on!”

He turned to go back up — just as the ship slammed into a massive wave with the force of a thunderclap. The whole vessel lurched down, up, then forward. For one instant, Bramimond could feel his guts squeezing up out of his throat, pressing behind his clenched teeth. By the time he reached the top of the stairs, the ship’s hull was screeching. Iron and wood grinded across harsh, merciless stone.

The hull went on to make several undignified creaks and pops, then came to a stop. Bramimond stumbled up to the deck; the boat was now fully docked inside the tower’s entrance. Behind them, the ocean continued to rage.

Ivan was the first to crawl out behind Bramimond, but only so he could heave the contents of his stomach over the rails.

Arians — who, by some miracle, remained mostly dry — walked down past Ivan, unlatched the anchor, and threw it over the side. It made a dull, metallic thunk as it slammed into dry rock.

“Land ho,” he announced.

Ivan wiped spittle away from his mouth with the back of his sleeve. “Madness. You are mad. This is madness. I can barely… urk… this whole place makes me dizzy.” He tried to stand, stumbling backwards. “You people, you old people, you’re on your way out. I’ve got my whole life ahead of me, and you crash us into the side of a mountain. Very considerate.” He turned back to the railing and heaved again.

Bramimond patted Ivan on the back. “Patience, Ivan. You’ll stay here with Vanessa and Arians. I’ll go alone.” He looked back to Arians. “Make sure nobody follows me.”

Arians nodded. “Remember what I told you. Don’t trust a word. They’ll say anything — lie through their teeth. Be careful.”

Bramimond reassured the older man with a clap to the shoulder. “I will. I’ll need you — all of you — very soon. But this part… I can handle this alone.”

Bramimond leapt over the railing and down to the stone below. The entryway narrowed into a tunnel; he followed the passage into the darkness ahead.

It ended at a freight elevator after forty meters. He could still hear the distant roar of the ocean echoing off the smooth stone walls. In the dim light, Bramimond could barely make out deep cuts in the stone — almost like lacerations. He pulled the iron railing open, stepping inside and hitting a button. Just before it started down, it occurred to him that the entrance looked like it had been smashed into the tower — rather than cut.

He could not say how long the descent took. After a few minutes, the smooth metal of the shaft gave way to rock. The elevator’s interior grew cold; he could make out the faint sound of something beating below. Bramimond reached into his pocket and touched the vial, reassuring himself that it was still there.

The elevator stopped. The carriage shuddered, and — with a groan — the gate slid open. He had arrived at a massive chamber lit by torches, each burning with a smokeless emerald flame. The walls were carved with ancient runes that spiraled up into a yawning darkness; the same darkness yawned beneath his feet. Nothing stood between it and him — save the elevator, and a steel, segmented walkway extending out from it.

The walkway reached the center of the chamber. There, a column of stone rose up out of the pit. When Bramimond took a step toward it, a pebble glanced off the side of his boot and fell below. He waited to hear it land.

Two minutes later, he stopped waiting.

He crossed the chasm across the walkway. His footfalls were the only sound he heard, save one — the soft beating that came from below. As he drew close to the dias, he could make out its solitary occupant: Seated on a small, plain metal folding chair — bound to it by thin, gold chains — was a human corpse.

Bramimond opened his mouth to speak, but was interrupted by a sound. It was like a stale rattle — a horrid, empty noise. It filled the room like a chorus, echoing off the walls. It was laughter. Mocking laughter.

He approached the corpse, examining it. Hollow, rotted sockets were all that remained of its eyes. Despite this, it stared at him with a fierce intensity. He felt the familiar chill again; suddenly, the beating below stopped.

“A visitor.” The corpse’s mouth did not move; nevertheless, its voice creaked out from it like a draft through a tomb. “How peculiar. I don’t often receive guests.”

Bramimond hesitated. “You’re O5-13, correct?”

That wretched laugh spilled out again. “No. This body was once that of Dr. Felix Carter; The Meddler. He was the Thirteenth. I reside here, in his place. And I am so much more.”

Bramimond nodded. “Then you will commune with me. I have come to break your contract.”

Something flashed across his vision. He saw endless fields of corpses; fire and blood. He saw a a parade of red horrors, — and a silent figure watching from above. Bramimond shook his head and looked away. When he turned back, it almost looked like the corpse was smiling.

“You have no authority here, Bramimond St. Armands.” Bramimond stepped back in shock. “Yes, I know your name. Yours is not one of the thirteen penned on the contract. Your hand cannot break it.”

Bramimond collected his nerve and smiled. “You’re right. It’s not. But humor me, if you would. Your contract — what are its terms? What were you promised?”

“The contract offered an escape for the Thirteen from the hand of fate. Life everlasting.”

“They already had the Fountain of Youth. Why did they need you?”

“The Fountain had run dry. Even then, it could not save them from me, only keep me at arms length. When they began to die, one came to me to bargain. I offered to stay my hand — in exchange for a seat at the table.” The rotted voice laughed again. “It was a simple negotiation.”

Bramimond walked behind the corpse. His eyes traced the sigils along the walls that surrounded them. “And as part of the contract, they gave you this man? Gave you his life?”

“No. His life was insured, as part of the contract. They gave me his body. He lingers on the edge of death eternally; his mind is given to the sublime ecstasy of near-death.”

Bramimond cocked his head sideways. “He’s not dead?”

The corpse scoffed. “No.”

Bramimond pulled the vial from his pocket and pulled out the cork.

“Good.”

He reached out from behind the corpse, seizing it by the chin; with just a squeeze, he forced its mouth open. With the other hand, he emptied the contents of the vial into the pit of its throat — taking care to ensure not a drop was wasted. When the vial was empty, he released its face stepped in front of it.

“What was that?” its voice hissed. “Where did you get that? How did-”

The change was immediate. Color rushed back into the corpse’s face; blood surged through its body. Fresh pink tissue filled the gaps where its skin had flaked away. Glistening knobs of white swelled up into its sockets. The emaciated torso spasmed, then expanded; the corpse lurched upward as it took in a gasping, choked breath. A violent, painful coughing spasm forced ages of collected dust to evacuate its lungs. Its arms lunged down to grab its chair.

In a span of only a minute, the corpse had become a nude man. The convulsions began to settle. His eyes — hazel-gold and now filled with fear — darted back and forth.

“What have you done?” he shrieked, his voice hoarse from disuse. “What have you done?!

Something dark and silver began to seep out of the man’s eyes, nose, and mouth. It was like smoke, but thicker. It shimmered in the air above him like a cloud. His eyes rolled back toward the shape; he cried out like a panicked animal.

“No! Don’t leave me! Don’t leave me! Don’t-”

Bramimond squeezed the trigger. He buried one slug in the man’s temple, then another in his heart.

Dr. Felix Carter jerked away with a final gasp. His body slumped into the chair; his head fell back. He stared into the darkness above.

Bramimond grabbed the back of the metal folding chair and dragged it to the edge of the dias. With a firm shove of his foot, he pushed the chair — along with its occupant — into the pit below. There was a brief clatter of chains; then, nothing.

Bramimond felt the presence again. When he turned, he found a silver woman draped in darkness standing alongside him. She peered into the darkness. Her eyes looked sad.

“The living body of the Thirteenth,” she said. “The contract is invalid. I am released from my obligation.”

Bramimond swallowed and nodded. “Should fatal peril come to them, you will no longer stay your hand against the other twelve?”

“I will not.” She did not look away from the pit. “They are free to die.”

“Good. That is enough.” He turned back to the elevator, taking a step. Something made him pause. He looked back to the pale figure, struggling with the question he wanted to ask.

“Why didn’t you stop me? You have the authority and power to do so. Why did you stand by and do nothing?”

At last, she turned and regarded him. Bramimond felt an overwhelming swell of solitude — of melancholy — rush through him. “Something festers at the heart of the council. Something that will not die. I thought that, perhaps, if I had a seat at their table, I could find it — end it. I could not. There are things in this world beyond even my reach, Bramimond St. Armands.”

She turned back to the pit. “Perhaps you will fair better. Perhaps not.”


Delta Command sent another ship to fetch them. Shortly after they boarded, Bramimond was approached by the young man in the dark grey suit with the sandy blonde hair.

“Did you have any trouble?” he asked.

Bramimond shook his head. “Getting here. Getting in.” He looked back to where the tower had been. “I can’t even see it anymore. Like it was never there, and yet…” He reached into his pocket, pulling out the journal. “And yet this guy knew about it ages ago.”

The young man laughed. “Yes. Well, I’m sure your mystery agent had his own way with things. Just like we need you to have yours. All of our plans are in motion now, Bramimond. They all rest on you performing your duty.” He nodded in the direction of the absent tower. “With any luck, the rest of them will be as simple as this.”

Bramimond shook his head. “It won’t be. Now they know we’re coming.”


13.png
Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License