December 15th, 1899
The daylight hours were his quietest.
Rhys sat at his worktable, an abandoned whetstone to his left; a book a of obscure hobbish phrases to his right.
The worst of the fae stayed out of sight during daylight hours; and during the day, the humans made at least attempts to protect some, if not all, humans.
During the day, he still took walks, still listened for screams, still looked into the shadows; but as a rule, his day started as the sun started to slide.
There was a knock at his door. He was on his feet in a second, a knife in his hand.
The building that held his home was a two-storey stone structure owned by the Local Court, which had rented the space to the system in return for some unknown recompense.
The ground floor was occupied by a cobbler and leatherworker; the top floor was occupied by a Kings’ Court lawyer. The door to his space was at the back of the ground floor. It looked utterly unremarkable, like a door to a storeroom. No one knocked on it by accident.
He reached out with his senses and scanned the other side of the door: Reynolds.
Rhys sighed, sheathed the knife, and opened the door for the agent.
Reynolds still looked so…new, even though he was far from newborn. He was handsome, but unassuming – far from intimidating or frightening, as most duskers were. He looked…human.
‘May I come in?’ the agent asked.
Rhys grunted and stepped aside, allowing the agent into his home. He went back to his table and repositioned the whetstone.
After thirty seconds of silence, he asked, ‘What do you want?’
Reynolds stood at the opposite end of the table. ‘This is awkward,’ he said after another moment of silence. ‘And I dislike being the one to bring you this news.’
There was only one kind of news that warranted such careful wording. Execution. He met the agent’s eyes. ‘When?’
Reynolds hesitated for a moment, then required a stool for himself and sat, his elbows leaning on the table. ‘I expected more of a reaction, Rhys.’
‘It’s been as clear as a headline for months now. I know about the rebellions, even if I’m not taking part in them.’ He carefully undid the buckle of the strap that held several of his knives in place and laid it on the table in front of him. ‘Are you to take me now?’
From what he understood, when the system laid down an execution order – which this was tantamount to – it was carried out with all speed, to lessen the chances of the unlucky bastard running, falling, or causing undue – or due – mayhem.
‘Last day of the month, Rhys,’ Reynolds said. ‘I thought I would give you that much time to settle your affairs and make peace with–’
‘You’ve given me far too much time to plan and run, Agent,’ he snapped. ‘Did you think it was wise to give me so much warning?’
Reynolds leaned forward. ‘I don’t like you, but I respect you. I don’t think we could have ever been friends, or lovers, but I respect your devotion to Duty. You – and all your remaining brethren – will be recycled by the end of the month. The Agency has deemed you–’
‘The System wants your kind, not mine,’ he said. ‘And Chaos help the humans that survive.’
‘On the morning of the thirty-first, I need you to report to my agency. Any time after nine will do, but it needs to– They want it done before midday.’
Rhys stared down at the table. ‘And you trust me not to run? Not to fall?’
‘I do, and I felt you deserved forewarning as payment for your service.’
He lifted his head. ‘Get out.’
Reynolds shifted away, and Rhys forced himself to sit as still as a statue.
With every second that passed, he felt himself twitching, needing to attack, needing to scream and rage and destroy his few possessions.
He was better than that. He had more control than that.
He was a dusker, not a madman.
The heat of his breath, from his nose onto his upper lip, began to annoy him. It was a small, constant thing, but it interrupted his otherwise perfect stillness.
He raised a hand and wiped at his lip, needing to return himself to a perfect zeroed state, but instead he brought his hand down on table and felt splinters go into his skin from the impact.
Rhys rose from his chair, his movements beyond his conscious control, and flipped the thick wooden table, striking out to kick the closest table leg. He broke the thick beam loose and tossed it across the room.
His hand was bleeding, but it would heal in a moment.
The worst part about his execution was…it wasn’t a death at all.
Unless Reynolds chose at the last minute to scatter his blue and not allow him passage into the collective unconscious – and he was certain Reynolds was too weak to execute him – his mind would live on, and on, until they stripped enough memories for him to forget who he used to be.
The future, like the past, was something that the System discouraged constructs like him from thinking about, but it was unavoidable for him to know all that could be known about recycling.
Everyone he had ever met still called it dying – it was like death in all but one of the salient ways. You retained your consciousness – for some amount of time afterwards – but it was nothing like true life.
An endless existence, in a place you could never live.
It was in death that their dissemblance to humans truly came to the fore. Duskers – and the few agents that had been brought to death so far during their tenure – were split. Their memories and consciousness went to one area of the System, their knowledge and skills went to another.
The System could use his ability to kill for a new agent, but it was far less likely that they would integrate his memories into a future being.
It was death. There was no other way to think of it.
And for the length of whatever existence he would have in the Collective Unconscious, he would know that he had failed in his Duty. There was no worse hell than that.
Rhys wiped the blood from his healed hand onto his pants and went looking for a bottle.
Afternoon sunlight filtered into his eyes.
He was drunk.
There were no more occasions to save wine and beer and spirits for. No more contacts he needed to ply with liquor. No more–
No more anything.
Rhys lifted his head a little and sucked the remains of the hob scotch from the bottle, then tossed it to the side. The bottle broke against the wall.
Automatic routines would clean it soon enough.
He sat up and leaned back against his bed, looking for the next bottle that he needed to empty.
He had expected to see it to the next century. The fact that he wouldn’t was…disappointing. It was clean, poetic in a way. Destroy the old ways before the clock turned, ringing in the new century, the new era of civilisation, and the uncontested reign of agents.
He looked at an empty bottle, lifted it, and threw it against the wall, where it smashed into shards.
No one would remember him. That was the point of the System. To be a terror in the moment, to be feared by those in the know, and a complete unknown by the civilian population.
The fae wouldn’t bother to remember him once he was gone, other than to breathe a sigh of relief as they committed their petty crimes and trespasses.
No one would remember him. He had no legacy.
And there was barely enough time to organise one.