The Thirteenth

A cold breeze swept across the deck of their ship, and the ice that had begun to form on their arms and shoulders was blown off into the sea. The sky had darkened hours before, and with the sun had gone any semblance of comfort in the South Atlantic. With every fresh wave, a new haze of frozen mist coated their bodies and chilled them to the bone. But resolute they stood.

“Gustav,” shouted Arians from the wheelhouse, “do you see anything?”

Gustav stared into the darkness, his hand gripping the icy rail. Jalla came up beside him, his hand held up to his face to brace against the wind.

“Anything?” Jalla said, his voice caught by the wind. Gustav shook his head, the ice on his thin grey hair hanging down into his vision.

“No,” Gustav said, “but we’re close. The seas have gotten worse.”

“That means we’re close?”

Gustav gritted his teeth in a harsh smile. “Aye.”

Another wave, bigger than any of the others, swept over the deck. Gustav and Jalla ducked under the wheelhouse to escape the spray that danced across the deck to the tune of the howling wind.

“There,” said a voice behind them as Bramimond stepped out of the shadow of the ship’s interior. “That light. Look.”

They both turned at the same time, and through the mist and the ice they saw a monolithic tower, a solitary steel spike piercing the ocean, in defiance of the sea around it. At its top was a single dancing flame, unbothered by the storm around them. Above them they heard the sound of the foghorn, and Arians took the ship towards the tower.

There was an entrance, ten meters up, wide enough for a ship but only when the swell lifted them up to it. Arians drew their craft around, lining up their approach. Torches on either side of the archway flitted in the wind, a dim beacon to aim for. At the aft of the ship they could barely make out the sound of Kiergard shouting to Arians, helping him time the swells. With each wave they drew closer, but the wrong wave would send them crashing into the side of the structure.

Jalla pulled his long, brown hair back behind his head in a rough knot. He held tight as he heard the foghorn above them sound again, and suddenly they were rising, the engine beneath them roaring to life. Gustav slipped on the deck and slid backwards into the ship, but Bramimond held fast, his eyes fixed on the tower. They heard Arians shouting above them, and then a crash, and then it was dark.

In the back room of an abandoned Somali warehouse, the proceedings of the Delta Command came to order.

There were seven of them, all unnamed. They stood in veiled booths, only their silhouettes were visible. When they spoke, they spoke into a speakerbox that spoke back to them in one Voice. They were all the same. None of them were different. Their Voice was the Voice of the Insurgency.

In front of them stood a man of average height and build, with greying black hair and a thin beard. His eyes were blue. He wore a dark jacket with a red and white emblem sewn into the chest. The name on his jacket read “Bramimond”. He did not look up at them. He did not move.

Cain Bramimond,” the Voice said, its metallic tone piercing the silence like a 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 from the Insurgency, if memory serves.

Cast out, and yet here you stand.

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

Speak plainly. Do not assume our patience again.

Bramimond nodded. “Of course. I only want to ask you 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, Cain Bramimond,” the Voice said. “The Summa Modus Operandi has no solution. There is nothing to ask.

“What is the Summa Modus Operandi?”

Destroy the Thirteen Foundation Overseers.

“What’s stopping us from doing that?”

The Voice barked out a laugh. “The Foundation Overseers have made themselves unto gods. They have used the corruption they brought into this world to robe themselves in darkness. The resources needed to find them alone would be unfeasible.

Bramimond nodded slowly. “But if we found them, what then?”

They cannot be killed. They have a contract with Death itself, to stay its hand whenever it draws near to them. In exchange, they gave Death the Thirteenth Overseer, to give 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, Cain Bramimond. You would first need to kill Death.

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

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

Bramimond paused, fishing for something in his pocket. When his hand pulled back, it held a small vial of a thick, shimmering blue liquid. He held it in front of his face, and the seven of them murmured behind him.

What is that?” It said. Bramimond could hear the uncertainty in its voice.

“If you could kill Death, what then?”

The Voice was silent again. Bramimond heard whispers all around him. He was suddenly aware of the presence of something great and terrible, something whose attention he had gained and that sought him out furiously. In the near silence of the warehouse, behind arcana and beneath the world above, the presence passed over and was gone.

Death cannot be killed.

No, it is a force beyond—

The Contract. It was The Contract—

-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 room was silent again, for a time. Bramimond felt their gazes from behind their curtains, knew he was being studied intensely. Finally he heard another voice, this one clearer than the Voice. It was the voice of one of them, a woman. He could not tell where it came from, but he heard it clearly.

“Where did you find that?” she said.

Bramimond returned the vial to his pocket. “When I was cast out, I took what I had and left to wander the Ways. I figured I would die there, like many do, out in the great expanse between worlds. I saw… many things. Wonderful things, and terrible ones. It was near the end of my time there that I came face to face with… Providence. It gave me this, and then opened a Way back.”

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

“It said that existence is sick. The cancer spreading from the Overwatch Command will consume not only our world, but all worlds. It said… no, it asked… asked me to make it right. Asked me to deliver this medicine.”

Suddenly, one of the curtains was pulled aside. Bramimond took a startled step back, his hand sliding naturally to the firearm at his belt. The individual on the other side of the curtain held a hand up, slowly pulling themselves into view. It was another man, a young man, in a dark grey suit. His hair was sandy blonde. He could be my son, Bramimond thought.

“You stand at a precipice, Cain Bramimond,” the man said, his eyes slowly adjusting and readjusting. “The Engineer designed the Summa Modus Operandi to give us purpose, but never expected it to be fulfilled. We… we have been tasked to fulfill our Insurgency’s motivations, but with this… this is the Insurgency’s motivation. This is all that matters.”

In turn, each of the other six stepped out of their booths. There was a tall man with long dark hair, an elderly woman in a silver wheelchair, a pregnant woman and a young girl with grey eyes, a man with an American flag pin on his vest, and one individual he could not place, one he could not discern. They stood silently, each one of them staring at him in rapt attention.

“What do you need?” the Voice said.

A flare lit above them, showering the deck of their ship in sparks. Outside they could hear the storm raging, but within the tower the sound became muted and muffled. The air around them was warm, and the ice on their clothes began to thaw.

“Boys? Boys, are you alright?” Kiergard was the first to speak, her light voice cutting across the muted chamber. “Everyone make it?”

Arians emerged from the wheelhouse, his right arm gingerly cradling his left hand. “Yeah, I’m here.”

Gustav crawled out of the below decks, his jacket soaked by rainwater. He threw a thumbs up, as did Jalla, who had to unstick himself from a steel pole beneath the wheelhouse. Bramimond motioned them down off the ship, onto the steel platform below. Across the empty chamber they could make out a light, and a door.

“Who built this thing?” Jalla said, his eyes cast up towards a ceiling that they could not see.

“It is a prison,” Gustav said gruffly, adamantly trying to wring out his clothes. “It’s to keep something in. The Jailers built it.”

Kiergard began walking across the room. “No, not the Jailers. This place existed long before they did. Almost certainly built to keep something in, though.” She turned back towards them and smiled. “Or keep someone out.”

They crossed the chamber, and Bramimond studied the door in front of them. To the right of the door was a small lit button, and a keyhole. Bramimond nodded and turned to Jalla, his hand outstretched. Jalla paused, and then reached into his jacket to produce a small bronze key. Bramimond took it, put it in the keyslot, and turned. As he did, the button turned green, and Bramimond hit it.

The floor beneath them began to shake faintly. The five of them could hear the distant sound of whirring gears and creaking metal. As the sound ascended towards them, Bramimond felt the presence again. He could hear it howling in rage, flying across the Earth towards them with such an inhuman fury he felt for a moment as if he might be swallowed whole. The long, thin whine of something moving very fast filled the air, and the hairs on the backs of their arms stood on end.

And then the door opened, and the room was quiet. Bramimond stepped in, along with Kiergard and Gustav.

“Stay here,” he said to Arians and Jalla. “If anything tries to come down this elevator, kill it. If anything comes into this room, kill it. Do you understand?”

They both nodded and took their place on either side of the door. Bramimond looked at the other two in the elevator and, without a word, hit a button to descend.

He could not say how long the descent was. At first they could see steel outside the doors of the elevator, and then stone. The world around them grew cold again, and they could faintly make out the sound of something beating below them. Bramimond motioned for Kiergard’s bag, and from it pulled the vial of blue liquid. He stuffed it into his pocket, along with a small paperbound journal.

When the elevator stopped, the door took a moment to open. The carriage shuddered slightly, but with a groan the gate cleared and they stepped out into another massive chamber. The walls, from what they could tell, were lined with torches lit by green flames. Soft, glowing runes filled every available open space, spiraling up and out of sight. A long walkway extended out before them towards a center dias, with a sheer drop on either side. With his first step Bramimond knocked a stone off into the pit. They did not hear it land.

They crossed the chasm on the walkway, their footfalls the only sound in the chamber except for the soft beating from below them. As they drew close to the dias, its solitary occupant came into view. Seated on a small chair, bound to it by thin gold chains, was a human corpse.

“Jesus,” Kiergard said, but she was interrupted by a sound like a stale rattle. It was a horrid, empty sound, but it filled the room like a chorus and echoed off the walls. The sound of mocking laughter.

Bramimond drew up next to the corpse and stared down at it. Where the corpse once had eyes, only rotted sockets remained, but they stared back at him with no less intensity than he. He felt the chill again, and heard the beating below them stop.

“A visitor,” a voice creaked out of the corpse’s mouth like a draft inside a tomb, “and not one I have met before. I should welcome you.”

“You’re Foundation Overseer O5-13, correct?” Bramimond said. Behind him he felt Gustav shift uncomfortably.

The corpse cracked out a laugh again. “No. This body was once the body of Ferdinand Carter, who was the Thirteenth Overseer. I reside here now, to commune with the living, and I am much more than the Thirteenth Overseer.”

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

In his mind’s eye, Bramimond saw endless fields of corpses, of fire and blood. He saw a parade of red horrors, and a silent, watchful figure standing above it all. He shook his head and squinted, and when he opened his eyes the corpse before him was smiling.

“You have no authority here, Cain Bramimond,” the corpse said. “Your name is not one of the thirteen penned on the contract. Your hand cannot break it.”

Kiergard stepped forward. “Your contract, what are its terms? What were you promised?”

The corpse’s head turned ever so slightly to face her. “Uma Kiergard. I have met you before. You ran from me once, and have done so every day since. Now you find yourself here. How poetic.” It paused. “The contract offered an escape from the hand of fate, for the Thirteen. Life everlasting.”

“They already had the Fountain,” Kiergard said, “why did they need you?”

“Need me?” the corpse croaked. “No. I came for them. The Fountain was cursed, longevity at the expense of humanity. It was a poisoned well. But the Thirteen circumvented that fate. They began to twist and manipulate the world and in doing so, spared themselves the absolution of Death. I came for them for a seat at the table, and to offer them their seat for all time. Even an immortal can die, by the sword, poison, accident. But to stay the hand of Death, that is another matter entirely. I wanted control. They wanted to live forever. Ours was a simple negotiation.”

Kiergard walked behind the corpse, her eyes focused on the walls around 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 given to the sublime ecstasy of the near-end.”

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

The corpse scowled. “No.”

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

“Good,” he said.

He took one step forward, reached out with one hand, and pulled the corpse’s mouth open. With the other hand he emptied the contents of the vial into its open maw, watching intently to make certain none of it was wasted. When he was satisfied, he let the corpse’s jaw go and stepped back.

“What was that?” the corpse hissed. “What did you-”

The change was immediate. Color rushed back into the corpse’s face as blood flushed through its body. Where its skin had begun to flake away, new tissue filled the gaps. In the empty sockets where its eyes had been, new orbits began to form, slowly at first, but then quickly. The emaciated torso began to fill, and the corpse took one long, deep, choked breath. It coughed, dust and detritus evacuating its lungs, and its arms reached out to grab the chair. In the span of two minutes, where a corpse had sat moments prior, a man was now chained to the chair. His fresh eyes, full now of fear, darted back and forth.

“What have you done?” the man shrieked. “What have you done?!

With a word, something dark began to pour out of the man’s orifices. It was like smoke, but thicker, and hung in the air above the chained man like a cloud. The man’s eyes rolled back towards the cloud, his face stricken like a panicked animal.

“No!” the man screamed. “Don’t leave me! You are bound, you are-”

Bramimond took one more step, to the side, giving Gustav the line he needed to bury a lead slug in the man’s forehead, and then another in his heart. The man gasped, shaking violently, and then was very still. Kiergard grabbed the back of the chair and drug it and the man towards the edge of the pit, and tipped it backwards. The sound of clattering chains filled the air for a moment, and then was silenced as the man fell out of view.

The three of them stood silently. Kiergard stared at where the man had fallen. Gustav stared at Kiergard. Bramimond stared at the fourth figure, a figure made of darkness. It stood next to Kiergard, staring down at the man as well. It lingered for only a moment before looking back towards them.

“The living body of the Thirteenth Overseer,” the figure said, its voice soft and somber. “The contract is invalid. I am released from my obligations.”

Bramimond nodded. “You will take no action to stay your hand, should fatal peril come to any of the other Twelve Overseers?”

The figure shook its head. “All men die.”

As the five of them boarded their ship, Jalla came up to Kiergard. His youthful eyes were wide, and the faintest hint of a grin crept onto his face.

“That’s it, then? They’re vulnerable now?”

Keirgard shrugged. “Seems like it.”

Jalla ran his hand through his hair. “Holy shit, that’s it, then, isn’t it? It’s almost over. It’s almost over!”

Kiergard stopped and turned towards him slowly. She put a single hand on his shoulder.

“No, it’s just now begun. Now they know we’re coming.”


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