In The Rhythm of the Newborn

It was dark, really dark. Not the most interesting description, but I couldn't see anything but blackness at first. After we had turned through a twist in the passageway the light behind us had disappeared. Eventually a faint filtered light eased around a corner in front of us and showed a bit more of the scenery; slate floor, bound on all sides by stone brick walls, and a murkily dark ceiling held in place by large wooden rafters. The corridor intersected with another, and branched off to the right and left. Eerily flickering light danced across the dark stones giving them the illusion of movement as someone around the right corner of the dark hallway carried a torch or lantern of some kind nearer.

I stooped a bit to make sure I wouldn't scrape my head on the low rafters. Besides me being taller than average the roof of this stone hallway was, as all underground passageways I had ever seen, lower than average. My companion was having no such trouble as he was easily a head shorter than I. Though he took every one of my curses to the builders of this hole as an opportunity to smirk and stand up straighter.

Denji was always like that. We'd been traveling together long enough for me to learn to ignore his constant jibes, however, so I didn't even look in his direction as I bumped against wood one more time. But when he chose to be pleasant he proved to be a more than adequate companion. More than one night on our long trek had been spent laughing until the late hours, and sometimes we'd stay up even later in serious conversation. If you were Denji's friend he'd stick by you forever; even if he ragged on you, he'd never let anyone else do so. If you ever got on his bad side though, it was time to watch out. Denji Belfire was as dedicated in his hates as his loves.

Luckily for me I made it into his approval long ago. It was kind of an odd way of becoming friends though, we'd started out fighting and before we could kill each other, we both just collapsed laughing as hard as we could. The really funny thing is I don't even remember what lead up to the fight. I was so drunk when we started arguing that I couldn't have remembered what I'd had for breakfast that morning. It all turned out well, though. If possible, Denji was drunker than I was, so it was no real surprise that we both nearly passed out in mid swing of our fists. The sheer absurdity of the situation; the two of us so drunk we couldn't stand, leaning on each other and still trying to pound the other, and laughing stupidly at our failed attempts to do so was just too much. In the end we were both thrown into the local clink to cool off. When we got out we were the best of friends. And it's been that way since. I put up with his heckling and he puts up with my odd intuitions.

For as far back as I can remember I've always had these feelings. The old peddler woman in the town I grew up near called them 'Spirit Strings.' She said they were always tugging me one way or the other, and I'd have no choice but to follow. Over the course of more years than I like to contemplate I have found the strings always and ever lead to one thing.

It was a particularly strong pull that brought me here, wandering deep in the bowels of an ancient castle of the style I had thought was extinct. From many days of travel distant I felt it. I felt it, and was compelled to answer. The strings lead to my quarry and so I must follow them. I've tried telling myself to ignore their pull, surely the man I hunt has nothing to do with me. But I cannot shake the feeling that he has very much to do with me. Whether he is linked to who I am or who I was I have no idea, but something in me says I am responsible for all he has done. So on my head vengeance rests. So for the sake of killing a man who has destroyed entire cities with ease, I left the town that had been good to me and began to follow the siren call. I left the town that had been the one place I was determined to settle into and stop the endless wandering. I gave up the stable life I longed for and returned to that of the drifter. Some small part of me still aches at that, but the insistent tugging of the 'Spirit String' overrides it. Something here sings to me, calls my name in slithery, sibilant tones, and I cannot ignore it. Even the faint tolling of death flirting on the heels of the seductive call doesn't deter me. I've cheated death before, I can only hope I still can.

Before I could reach the corner, I felt Denji's hand on my sleeve. Nodding slightly, I slid back into the shadow and let my partner take a look. Carefully, from the opposite wall from the one I had my back to, Denji peered around the corner towards the illumination.

"All clear, Beam" He reported, using the nickname I hated.

"I thought I told you not to call me that." I growled softly more out of habit than any real thought that he'd listen. Denji was good at picking out the part of someone's name that they disliked the most. "Can't you just call me Tranden like everyone else?"

"No way. Sorry, but out of the name Tranden Eftebeam, Beam is definitely the best sounding part. It's short, easy, and it suits you." He continued as I only half listened. "You're tall and skinny as a beam, you know. Anyway, whoever brought the torch left it there and turned back it seems."

"Whatever, let's just get out of this hallway." It wasn't like it mattered about the name. I was quite sure that wasn't my real name anyways. Many of my memories were hazy, but I learned more with every encounter with the man we were hunting. In the last I learned who he was, perhaps this time I'll remember who I was.

"Sure thing, but which way?" He brought up a valid point. I honestly had no idea where in the well preserved ruins of the castle I was going, only what awaited us when we got there. The only thing I had to go on was the tug of the strings. Fortunately it was a sensitive enough sensation to give me a direction.

"This way. It's pulling me this way" And I headed off down the right hand corridor towards more torches lit along the wall. Denji soon followed and we continued down the hall. With each step I could feel the pull getting stronger. As it increased in intensity, the feeling of danger that trailed it also grew. With new trepidation I followed the insistent tug, perhaps I was in over my head going against him again. I had never beaten him before, what made me think I could now? Denji, perceptive as always, noticed something in my face to suggest my sudden reservations.

"So by going this way are we tightening the noose or loosening it?" I had no easy answer for him.

"I…I don't know exactly."

"Great. Just great." He laughed. "We could be sticking our necks into god only knows what kind of hornet's nest. And all because you are 'pulled this way.'" His mirth died and he suddenly became serious. "You really are an odd one you know."

"There is danger here. I can feel death hovering, waiting for this confrontation." I replied evenly. "But whether it is death for you, me, or him I cannot say."

"Can't be us." He responded readily with a battle grin. "I won't let it be us death is looking for." His whole stance seemed to itch for a fight right then. Feet spread slightly, knees bent just a tad, arms held just a fraction out from his sides. He was ready to pounce on anything or anyone who would threaten us. His fiery brown eyes were blazing behind the dark locks that dripped down his face and trailed into a tail that flowed halfway down his back. Stockier than I and more muscled in just about every way, Denji was fiercely capable in a fight. The pistol and knife at his belt only reinforced this. "Where you go, I'll be right behind you watching your back, partner. I don't know what this guy has up his sleeve, but I understand battle. Death ain't gonna find us today."

"You watch my back, and I watch yours. Just like always."

"That a promise?" The grin widened even further.

"That's a promise."

We found the end of the hallway soon enough, but it only opened into another corridor. This one was wider and, thank god, taller. As we walked my mind mulled over my comrade. He didn't believe the feelings I had, yet he had come all this way with me. He had never even asked what we were doing in this old stone heap beyond finding and killing someone. Truth be told I was glad he hadn't asked, because I didn't really want to have to elaborate. Even if I did explain, I'm not sure he'd believe half of it. Which, come to think of it, he probably had already guessed, which would explain his not asking. He was pretty practical in all that he did. He certainly wouldn't ask a question he knew he wouldn't get a clear answer to. Just like he didn't worry about anything he couldn't change. Anything that was out of his grasp was simply nothing to bother with. He had a kind of 'what happens, happens' attitude that, while it seemed to make sense, I found impossible to follow.

"I don't believe in what I don't understand is all." He interrupted my thoughts with a sudden comment. "I don't understand what all you're jabbering about being pulled and whatnot. Just like I don't really understand tax laws or the afterlife."

"So that's why you always say you don't believe in taxes when the collector comes around the town." I joked. "And I thought you were just broke."

"Most of the time I was." He laughed. With laughter giving us strength we strode on. After a time I didn't bother counting the turns or remembering which passages we left. I only knew that I wanted this journey to be done with. I was bone weary tired of not knowing myself if I had helped him cause so many deaths. I was deathly afraid of this encounter, but a need for resolution outweighed my fear. I needed to finish my heretofore ineffectual vengeance and finally rid the world of him. I also knew I wouldn't likely survive it this time. If survive can even really be used to describe it…