55. Zero Minus One

Soundtrack and Video: Lo Fidelity Allstars, Battleflag

Zero hour comes early.

Inglorion’s instructed Theo to walk by whistling “Singing in the Rain” when the other slaves are gone and he’s leaving Antigone’s residence open and unguarded, with her alone inside. If anything goes wrong — if Antigone has visitors, or decides to attend the festival herself — then Theo is supposed to whistle “A Bicycle Built for Two” and meet Inglorion by the old barracks to explain what changed

Apparently everything’s happened as planned and ahead of schedule, because Inglorion hears an awkward rendition of “Singing in the Rain” an hour early. He and Ajax walk the 100 yards to Antigone’s quarters. The door is unsecured. Inglorion leaves Ajax just inside to stand guard. He’s reminded Ajax multiple times not to stir from the door, no matter how brisk the sounds of combat. He’s explained that he needs Ajax to carry a change of clothes for Inglorion, and if he wades into battle they’re sure to get spattered and stained. In fact, he doesn’t want Ajax present for the murders — he has a vague notion that the moral responsibility and physical risk should be his.

The layout more or less conforms to Theo’s sketch. When Inglorion reaches the second to the last chamber — it’s the one he uses as a dressing room, right outside the bedchamber — Inglorion hears voices and realizes Antigone has a visitor. 

The door is half-open, and neither of the speakers is within sight. The conversation is desultory gossip. Neither speaker sounds tired, and the guest isn’t exactly poised to leave.

“It’s just — I can’t stand her,” says Antigone. “You know how she is.”

“I know, I know,” says her guest soothingly.

“I mean, what the fuck was she thinking? It was really rude.”

“You know, I’m sure she didn’t intend — she knows better than to insult you.”

Antigone says sharply, “Whose side are you on? It was bitchy, and you know it.”

“Yes, it was.” 

“It was bitchy.”

“No, no, you’re right.”

“Fucking cunt.”

Inglorion thinks, For all I know, that’s a slave or her hairdresser — someone totally innocent. The conversation pauses, and Inglorion wonders what they’re doing in there. One of the two women hops up, paces to the other side of the room. Inglorion has to withdraw swiftly to stay out of sight. 

The dressing room is tiny and Spartan, furnished only with a small chest and a washstand. There’s no cover. Antigone’s moving around the bedroom now, grumbling and — what? Tidying up? Straightening picture frames? “I’m just sick of it, that’s all,” she says. “I don’t need that on top of everything else.” She’s moving around, apparently aimlessly.

Inglorion pulls back further, and manages to collide with the washstand and knock a dish filled with rings into the metal washbasin. 

“What the fuck,” says Antigone. To her credit, there’s no fear in her voice. She throws the door open, sees Inglorion, and snaps, “What the hell are you doing here?”

Explanations could only be awkward, so Inglorion draws a dagger, frees his bullwhip, closes the distance, and strikes. She parries the dagger strike with her own knife, and dodges the whip. She tries to maneuver him up against the wardrobe and shank him, but misses. He lashes out with the whip again, aiming for her eyes. She instinctively raises her dagger hand to shield her face. The whip wraps around her wrist, and he uses it to yank her off balance. She drops the knife and he closes the distance, delivers a series of rapid strikes to her torso and neck. She’s bleeding badly, slumps over, hits the ground.

As he leans over to finish her, he’s gripped by a vision. He’s Tereus, looming over Philomela, who’s lashed to a bed with her legs apart, glaring defiance at him. He’s kneeled up between her thighs. He watches her face as he spits on his palm, strokes his cock until it’s hard, then grimly presses into her. She’s struggling madly, so it takes a couple of tries to find the angle. He finally gets it, and starts working his way into her. There’s a lot of friction. It’s hurting her, and it’s a rough ride for him. She spits in his face. He stops for an instant, raises his head again to look at her. 

“Really?” he says. “Fucking really?” He wipes the spittle from his face, applies it to the base of his cock, says cooly, “Next time, put it here,” and slams it in. 

He’s still holding the knife, prepared to finish her. Her eyes are empty and staring. She’s bled out. The floor is slippery with blood. He can smell it on his face and hands. It’s hot, but it won’t be for long. He retches once, staggers to his feet. 

Antigone’s guest has pulled the bedroom door shut, flipped the lock. He can hear her moving around in there. It sounds like she’s trying to shift the bed to block the door, so he slams himself against it once, twice, three times. Inglorion’s small — just over 100 pounds — but Drow doors are thin. It gives under his weight and he’s in the bedroom, facing down a second Drow woman. She’s shifted the bed several feet from the wall, so she simply drops behind it.

Inglorion strides up and kicks it, sending it skidding a couple of feet across the floor. “Get the fuck out from there, or I’ll fucking kill you,” Inglorion barks.

He’s covered in Antigone’s blood and armed with the murder weapons. Unsurprisingly, his opponent declines to negotiate. There’s a moment of silence, then she pops up briefly and a dagger flies from behind the bed. It misses, and buries itself quivering in the door frame behind him. 

“Fuck it,” says Inglorion. He kicks the bed repeatedly, each time moving it a few feet, until it and his opponent are wedged in a corner. She’s entirely under the bed, so she can’t take a good shot. She’s also got great cover. Absurdly, Inglorion’s in a position familiar to anyone who’s tried to give a pill to a young, sprightly cat.

They sit there for a moment, both panting angrily. Inglorion has no idea how she’s armed — if she has one dagger, or none, or 10, if they’re poisoned. He’s also uncomfortably aware that she could make a grab for his ankles. The bed is iron, so he can’t smash it like he did the door. He sheathes his weapons, grabs one end of the bed, drags it towards him, and tries to flip it over entirely. It slams against the wall — he miscalculated the distance — so he gives it another good yank and shove. This time he succeeds in flipping it over, so that the legs are in the air and his opponent is exposed. She has to move out quickly and ungracefully, with a combined scuttle and roll. She leaps to her feet and makes for the door, and he blocks her by throwing himself against the door frame. 

They’re nearly eye-to-eye. She draws two daggers, leaving one more in a bandolier of four. She throws the first, and it skitters away harmlessly. She aims an overhand blow with the second, and he dodges it. He grabs her hand and disarms her with a vicious downward motion. She drops the knife and they’re grappling. He’s much stronger, so he easily slams her to the ground, gouges her eyes, and smashes her nose with a palm strike. She’s briefly disabled; he reaches to draw her last dagger. 

It happens again. He’s Tereus and she’s Philomela. He has her pinned on the floor. She struggles vigorously, but he’s almost two feet taller and twice her weight. She’s strong, but he’s much stronger. He doesn’t feel passion, just the excitement of battle and a sense that victory is within reach. It’s hard work, but he keeps his weight on her and finishes in a few strokes. Somewhere in there she tried to head-butt him, so he hauls off and punches her so hard that he hears the back of her skull crack against the stone floor. They’re both dazed. He lies there for a moment, between her legs. She’s conscious, but her gaze is wandering. She may have a concussion. He rolls off of her, stands up.

He’s still gripping the dagger. She’s dead in a spreading pool of blood. He drops the knife, backs away in horror. He’s shaking.

He walks over to the bed, tries to retrieve the sheet and use it to wipe some of the blood from his hands and face. It works a bit.

He stops for a moment, with his back to the second corpse. He lights a cigarette with shaking hands, stands there smoking it and telling himself, “You did it. It’s over,” though he feels it’s just begun.

Inglorion’s mind is a blank. He finishes the cigarette, drops it on the corpse, hears it hiss as it hits blood. 

He doesn’t intend to, but he thinks, “Fuck it,” and pulls out two Ace of Hearts calling cards. He places one between the sightless eyes of each of his victims. They’re smeared with bloody fingerprints.

Ajax is standing beside the front door, silent, eyes lowered, as always.

“Let’s go,” says Inglorion.

One thought on “55. Zero Minus One

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