January 22, 2017:

Cutscene. Takes place after Saudade.

???, New York City


NPCs: Avram Vasilevich Golubev



Mood Music: [*\# None.]

Fade In…

In many ways, it is a relief to him to be able to release the girl's soul back to her. A relief that it is no longer necessary to keep it after the connection was forged. As much blood as there is upon his hands, he has little interest in adding unnecessary drops.

There is silence afterwards. His attendants leave him. He stands alone, where once a vortex of power and sound swirled. The silence is deafening, portentous: a kind of silence he had heard only once before, after the screaming had long since stopped, and half his heart had been ripped from his chest.

That was sixty-five years ago. A lifetime. A long time to continue living after your soul was already gone.

Time means nothing to me, a voice slithers in his head. The hiss of old women passed over the forked tongue of a serpent. Time is my plaything. Nothing is written in stone so long as you hold me. You were a fool to let me grow weak again.

He does not answer. After all, it is only a helm.

He turns away, crossing the room, to slowly take a seat at his desk. It is a laborious effort these days, a bone-creaking, brittle affair of a few seconds rather than instantaneous. He finds it funny, sometimes, how his body came through four wars only to fall to the predations of old age. Not even the wounds he sustained in combat could do what the simple passage of time has done.

I know your mind, the helm murmurs. Its phantom fingers pull on his thoughts. Memory paints its images in the darkness of his closed eyes.

Shells fall in the distance, exploding in brief starbursts in the dark. He can clearly recall his lack of concern. The front lines are not his job. He views combat from the other side, from the back lines of the enemy. He sees it over the hilts of knives sunk in unsuspecting backs. He sees it in the trusting eyes of those he lures to drink his carefully-mixed poisons. He sees it in the ashes of those he burns, so they can provide no assistance to an advancing front line. He sees it in the nightly mantra he repeats to himself, that the atrocious is necessary to advance the good: that his own soul is acceptable kindling to keep others warm.

He sees that mantra for the lie it is when his eyes meet hers across a room, and suddenly no atrocity seems worth the cost.

And then? the helm prompts.

The sun in her hair, in the lonely fields of Alsace, to which they fled from war. The sound of her laughter. The way she always smelled of lilac and lavender.

The way she smelled when they burned her alive to make him break.

And then? the helm sighs.

"War. Once more, until there is peace," he finally says aloud. His mouth quirks at the absurdity of speaking, essentially, to his own self. "It seemed the only remaining thing to do."

The Tarnhelm rests, mute, on the table in the room's center.

"So much of the time," Avram Vasilevich Golubev observes, "it is not the slow sum of our lives that breaks us. It is but one single shattering point that begins our destruction. Our lives are successive paroxysms, from one point of agony to the next. If you could smooth the course of human life to a peaceful even keel… would you not?"

He looks down at the journal open before him. March 10th, 1973. 'Today, I spoke to a man, and not a machine.'

"Would it not be worth any cost? One final atrocity?"

There are men, the helm entices, forged by nature or circumstance to make the sacrifices that others cannot. You have put your own soul on a pyre. Surely you deserve your dreams as well, if you are so bent upon gifting all others theirs. Come. Empower me, and I shall return what you have lost.

"I shall die soon," Avram murmurs, regarding the ceiling with old eyes. His thumb turns the wedding band on his left hand. "My dreams are quite immaterial."

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