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The Brink of Execution

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I got you fishin' through the fodder

This whole relationship is underwater

We're facing dangers in the third strike

'Cause I fuck with myself more than anybody else

BANKS - "Fuck With Myself"

 

 

His prey was close, but how close? 

Death's perception of the mortal coil - in particular those whose ties to it had become threadbare - was a curious sense. His memory of life had grown dim over the course of time, but he supposed the new awareness amounted to Guthix's replacement for his old human instinct.

If pressed for a description, Death would liken it to closing one's eyes and identifying the origin of light. That light became brighter as the source grew nearer to his or her time of reaping. Individuals were narrow and distinct points; large groups and battlefields were wider and brighter.

The trouble with his prey was that he wasn't one soul, but many thousands compacted into a single human form. He registered like a war zone, and what should've been a single point of light was instead a broad conflagration the size of a small forest. Death had neared his objective many times only to have the man disappear before he could search the impacted area in its entirety.

That the battlemage's teleport was instantaneous made things worse; too often he'd come tantalizingly close to success but been thwarted by his prey's animal awareness of impending discovery. The soul thief would sense the approach of an enemy, leave, and the hunt would resume.

This time felt different, though. He was within range, and as Death neared the fetid swamp where one of the several energy craters sat, he felt the maelstrom of soul energy reach near-critical density. 

Nomad was here. Death's opportunity to remove one of Gielinor's most fearsome plagues had finally arrived.

An uncharacteristic feeling of anticipation tightened his grip on the scythe. His job typically generated feelings ranging from sorrow to grim satisfaction, but Nomad's case was unique in so many respects. 

Delight. Harold Death would know pleasure in wiping this affliction from the world.

Brilliant spheres of divine energy left trails in their wake, bobbing to and fro like aimless insects. Amid them stood Death's target, hands held open in a misleading gesture of welcome as he siphoned from one of the energy wisps.

Consumption. Death's specter's face became even more severe with disgust. He's nothing more than a desperate glutton, an addict with no thought to the cost or consequences of satisfying that addiction. 

Oh, yes. It would indeed be a pleasure to end him.

That animal awareness again served Nomad, who crouched as smoothly as any rogue and snatched his staff from the ground. 

It wasn't fast enough. Death extended his arm and pointed at the Scourge of Souls, arresting him with the simple telekinetic power that was one among many afforded him by Guthix. Nomad was lifted bodily into the air, struggling as the cerulean glow of his eyes narrowed to rebellious slits.

"Release me, you self-righteous reaper! You have no business with the living." Nomad's dry voice was as much snarl as words.

No acknowledgment of his dubious state, of course. Death wasn't at all surprised.

"Your life has been extended by dint of countless others paying the price. I intend to rectify the harm you've done." The sole digit became a pantomime of strangulation as his other skeletal fingers extended in a threatening curl.

Restraining him was proving difficult.

The Guthixian energy. It's interfering. Death "felt" for the native soul beneath the tumult of stolen ones, but what Nomad had been siphoning was too nearly the same energy fueling Death's own powers and it repulsed his efforts like a meeting of identical magnetic fields. It was taking considerable concentration on Death's part to keep hold of the battlemage, and there was too much resistance to do anything else.

The divine energy was being digested, transformed to something more usable within Nomad, and that resistance was waning. Death allowed his captive to sink to the ground while keeping hold of him.

I must wait until what he's taken is no longer in its current form. I can do nothing else with him until then, but if he becomes aware of his partial immunity he may yet free himself and escape. That cannot be permitted. I must... distract him.

Nomad's protest was cold, certain. "You overstep your authority, bone construct. Kill me, and you're no longer impartial. You'll be nothing more than a common murderer. Are you prepared to abandon your precious sense of balance to have your revenge?"

"Revenge?" Death bristled. "Your interference has undermined the equilibrium between life and death! You have cheated your way to a false longevity and you will pay for it now." He gestured with his other hand. "Those who fell so you might remain are owed it. will see to the restoration of order."

Revenge, indeed. Such simplistic reasoning.

Yet the accusation... stung.

"Order? Restoration?" Nomad's voice bled condescension. "Those no longer living are either undead or safely within the confines of the Underworld. The living are living. Correct me if I'm wrong, but there's no bloody imbalance to correct, is there?"

Nomad was supposed to be a learned man, but Death could scarcely credit it now. "Thousands died before their time. Therein rests the imbalance, you intractable child."

His captive laughed bitterly. "And in whose hands rested the scythe that bore them away from their bodies and into Icthlarin's realm, hmm? I've never wielded such an instrument." 

Nomad was wrong about so many things, so many. No wonder he'd drawn all the conclusions he had; ignorance of that magnitude would lead anyone to the wrong idea.

It would fall upon deaf ears, but he felt obliged to respond anyway. "I do not decide their fates, you arrogant blight. I serve a purpose when their bonds to life have reached or are about to reach a point of irreparable weakness." Death's voice sank into a range almost as unsettling as Zaros's. "I do not end their lives; I facilitate the continuation of their journey beyond it until they reach Icthlarin's demesnes. You of all people haven't any business calling anyone else a 'murderer.'"

Nomad's strained chuckle was dry. "Oh, I have taken many a life by hand, but most of the souls I've claimed have been donated willingly. I hardly had to coerce anyone into killing sprees on my battlefield." He harrumphed. "They went happily to it! All I had to do was provide them a place for combat and objectives to rally around. Ah, and the gods, of course. Nothing invites a massacre quite like religious fervor, and both Saradomin and Zamorak have inspired warriors to do their worst to fellow warriors under the banner of each for generations."

His smirk was obvious despite its concealment behind the scarf. "Even if I had killed them all myself, the fact remains that judgment isn't your province, specter. Many a villain has had a long, successful career before falling subject to mortality. To you."

Death constricted the telekinetic hold, testing. Close, but I dare not risk it yet. Just a bit more ought to do it. "And their souls continued to whatever lies beyond the veil for them. Not so with those souls trapped and transformed by you. They were denied their fates."

Another husk of a laugh. "Oh, I daresay their fates were just. They were willing to sacrifice themselves for their deities or risk it all for material rewards. Mindless, and now they mindlessly serve a new purpose, a better one. In fact, I do believe they met a kinder fate than they deserved."

"A better purpose? What, you think yourself so elevated beyond them? You are no more than they were, only better equipped for evil on a grander scale." The hood of Death's cloak swung side-to-side with the shake of his head. "There's no trace of self-reflection in you, Nomad. No more than any power-seeking necromancer or warlord."

One of Nomad's dark eyebrows lifted. "And yet you've gone out of your way to track me down and end my life, despite the fact that my ties to that life are neither thin nor in danger of becoming so. Here you are, prepared to actively take a life that isn't yours to take. Rationalize all you will, but in the end you've designated yourself my executioner."

Distant footsteps in the grass and laughter alerted both to the approach of others.

Nomad's eyes became amused crescents. "And an audience for the execution. Shall we invite them over?"

Death's grip on Nomad became more pronounced. Close enough. 

That the prospect of witnesses alarmed him wasn't something he wanted to examine. Nomad was once again lifted to the air, and Death teleported them both to his office, a solemn affair corridor-bound to the Gielinorian plane via Draynor Village.

Nomad laughed again. "Didn't want the mortals to watch you become an avatar of vengeance?"

"Enough! Your time has come, Nomad. There will be no more escapes, no more evasions." 

The scythe wouldn't do, not with the amalgam of other soul energies present. Death pulled at the foreign energies with his own power, drawing them away from the native soul within. 

Nomad's voice became thinner as he fought the draw. "You... are wasting your time, specter. You can't conceive of the power I have. Give up this futile endeavor."

Death spoke as he worked, stripping the outer layers of soul magic free. "You had potential, once upon a time. The power was already within you to be a great force for good and you eschewed it. There was a time..." he hesitated, then pressed on, "I once thought you the World Guardian. That Guthix might imbue you and we might work in tandem to preserve Gielinor as it is. Long ago, before you became what you are. Before the adversities of your youth became your excuse to inflict your hatred upon others. Before you began thinking yourself above them, better, superior. Before your self-pity, self-loathing, and desire for revenge became the whole of what you are."

Nomad's voice was truly strained now, his resistance to Death's siphon demanding more effort than he liked. "Save your disingenuous speeches, hypocrite. You will fail, and your pet World Guardian will betray you as she betrays everyone save Zamorak if given the chance. Give up."

A new voice, female and lightly accented, intruded. "What the hell is going on?"

Death's eyes narrowed in concentration. "I must ask you to return later, Razwan. This is entirely between myself and the Scourge of Souls."

The other great puzzle in Death's experience instead walked farther into the room, staring at himself before gazing wide-eyed at Nomad. "What are you doing to him?"

"Relieving him of his soul. I, and the many who've gone before their times thanks to him, are owed it." 

Nomad writhed in Death's telekinetic grasp. "I owe you nothing, hypocritical entity!"

"You-"

Razwan addressed him again. "Death, I once rescued you from Sliske's clutches. I need to call in that favor."

Of all the piss-poor timing! "I will hear your request once I've finished delivering this one to his fate."

A pause. "Actually... I've come for Nomad."

No! Absolutely not! 

Nomad's chuckle held satisfaction and a trace of relief. "What an unlikely turn of events."

"Silence, you pestilential wretch!" Death glanced at the curious Pollnivnean woman, again struck by the strange configuration and composition of the soul woven within her. "I cannot possibly release him now. Justice-"

"'Justice,' he says! Call it what it is, specter. Revenge."

"Death... please. There's something in the works even more important, something that might very well take down Sliske. I need him." Death watched as her eyes slid back to Nomad with a complicated blend of pain and a torrent of the unspoken, and was stunned by a revelation.

She had... feelings for this monster. 

Guthix, why? 

Perhaps something about their shared soul oddities drew her. Perhaps she sensed the dead shell of his old potential and thought it alive. Perhaps she wasn't as perceptive as he'd thought. Whatever the case, it wouldn't do to traumatize her after all she'd done for him. 

And she'd done a great deal for him, hadn't she? Aided him in keeping the balance between life and death in check. Confronted Sliske to free him from captivity. Though she was no paragon of virtue and inspired more than a few doubts, she'd done well by Death.

He did owe her a debt of gratitude.

Not this, Razwan. Don't ask this of me.

But she had, and now he had to decide. End the great hunt, or repay the great kindness?

Death's skeletal hand clenched in frustration, severing the siphon and releasing his hold on Nomad. The battlemage sank to the floor and stood, breathing raggedly.

It was several seconds before he spoke. "Not that I don't appreciate the hospitality, Death, but it would seem the World Guardian 'needs me.' Who am I to refuse?" 

"Your reprieve is temporary, Nomad. Don't think you've escaped your due indefinitely." Death turned to Razwan. "Do not prove me wrong."

She nodded, but remained silent. That silence worried Death. 

Nomad turned to her. "So, what is this 'need' of yours? There's no guarantee I'll comply with you, either, you realize."

Razwan's face no longer betrayed the complicated thoughts as it had before. Her tone was businesslike, tinged with wariness. "Zamorak has summoned you. We're to meet him and the others in the chamber below Daemonheim."

The battlemage nodded in satisfaction. "Good. About time he noticed my efforts on his behalf. I will join you."

Her sigh was pure relief. She turned to Death. "Thank you."

Death pinned her with a stare. "Please do not make me regret it, Razwan."

Silence again. It sat uncomfortably.

Razwan turned toward the doorway, allowing Nomad to go ahead of her.

He took a step forward before pausing and turning to her. He sounded amused. "Don't trust me, World Guardian?"

She held a hand out toward the bridge beyond, urging him on. "About as much as I trust Morrisane to sell me something useful. After you." Her voice was curt and bordering on hostility, believable unless one had seen the panic on her face moments ago.

Good. He doesn't deserve trust. Your caution will serve you well.

Nomad barked a laugh. "Good. Mistrust is your wisest course around me."

Death seethed at him as the pair exited his office together.

Bring him back to me, Razwan. I will have my...

He stopped on his way back to the desk, surprised. Had he almost said "revenge?"