The Condemned

"Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum, benedicta tu in mulieribus, et benedictus fructus ventris tui, Jesus. Sancta Maria, Mater Dei, ora pro nobis peccatoribus, nunc et in hora nostrae. Amen. God save us all..."

The Marquis de Chagny drew in a long, shaking breath and tried to compose himself. If only the trembling would stop... Oh well. In a day or two it would no longer matter. He had overheard the guards speaking outside his cell of the interrogator he was to have, and the man sounded too cold and soulless to be human. But come what may, the Marquis had sworn to himself that he would meet it with every ounce of the strength that remained in him.

He heard the door open down the hall, and then the sound of echoing, hollow footsteps approaching his cellblock. The Marquis drew himself up and turned to the door, his face set in stern resolve despite the rapid palpitations of his heart. He could hear someone speaking to the guard in a deep, rich voice.

"The Marquis de Chagny?" inquired the voice.

"Cell 217, Citoyen Harker," replied the guard, sounding slightly unnerved.

So this was the voice of the man who would be his executioner. The key rattled in the lock and de Chagny strengthened his resolve. Then the door opened, very slowly, and revealed a man who could be nothing but the physical representation of the Angel of Death. Despite himself, de Chagny instinctively clutched the back of his chair to steady himself. The man before him stood at least 6'4'', literally towering over the smaller man. Harker's hair still retained a bit of its original light brown, but the passing of time had left him mostly grey. His features, though attractive for an older man, were stony and angular, and he wore a close-cropped beard and mustache, perfectly trimmed.

"Good morning, Monseiur Marquis," began Citoyen Georges Harker coolly, but with an ounce of politeness.

de Chagny was slightly taken aback, partly due to the man's politeness, but mostly by his abandonment of the Republican stock title of "Citoyen." For a moment, a tiny spark of hope ignited within him. Was he to be saved after all?

The man stepped closer, and de Chagny's hope vanished. The grey eyes piercing into his own were devoid of anything that could be called human, and were filled instead with the soulless malevolence of a shark stalking its prey. de Chagny tried to hold the man's gaze, but something about the steely grey stare seemed to drain his strength and crush his will inexplicably. Finally he was forced to look away, struggling to rebuild his confidence. The entire sequence of events had lasted no more than a minute, and yet it was a staggering first offense against de Chagny's defenses.

"Monseiur Marquis?" asked de Chagny with a hint of bitterness in his voice, "And why am I not merely Citoyen de Chagny to you, as I am to your compatriots?"

Harker ignored the questioned and motioned toward the chair. "No need to stand on ceremony, Marquis. Please sit down."

"No," said de Chagny flatly, raising himself to his full height. Some unidentifiable emotion flickered across Harker's stony features, then vanished like the stain of breath upon a mirror.

"Very well," he replied softly, "that will come later."

"You're trying to intimidate me now, are you? I warn you, Monseiur Harker, I will not bend so easily as that," de Chagny tried to turn his inability to meet Harker's gaze into an expression of disdain, knowing the battle was lost if he let the other man see the terrible fear ripping at his brain like some deadly parasite. Strong... Just be strong...

"Perhaps not, de Chagny..." Harker's entire tone had changed. Where once there had been businesslike politeness there was now a low, dangerous threat that clawed at the heart and filled the soul with doubt. "Perhaps you will not bend easily... And yet you shall bend, just as all the others before you have. However valiantly you fight against me, however strong you may be, I will break you, and you will die." In the silence that followed, he removed from his pocket a piece of folded paper and placed it on the Marquis' desk.

"The confession?" asked de Chagny, his voice becoming slightly strained as he said the words.

"Very perceptive, Monseiur. All you need do is sign it, and you will sign it, whether it be now or later. Sign it now, and you will die. Sign it later, and you die a broken man. Consider carefully."

de Chagny sat and read through the document slowly. His hand trembled slightly as he picked up the quill and stared at the empty line through tortured eyes. Then, somewhere deep within, he felt the cool resolve of a mountain breeze and he remembered his intention to meet whatever this man threw at him with strength.

His courage renewed, de Chagny slowly and deliberately set down the quill and crumpled the offensive document into a ball. Then he rose to his feet, turned, and flung the thing defiantly into Harker's face. His moment of glory, however, was short-lived. Defiant courage melted into almost frantic horror when he realized that Harker's face, rather than being stunned and defeated, had twisted into a hollow, mirthless smile that belonged deep within the circles of hell with the other demons, and not on the face of and human being.

The smile broadened and the grey eyes flashed maliciously when Harker observed this terror welling up.

Yes... The inquisition would commence.

* * *

Two hours had passed since Harker had entered the Marquis de Chagny's cell. de Chagny was one of the strongest Harker had seen for a great while, and he was taking great pleasure in destroying the man. But it was almost over now. Harker could see that the numb ache pressing against the Marquis' brain would soon become unbearable. It was time to end it. He stalked behind the now-seated de Chagny, whose head was too tired and heavy to follow him.

"Tell me about your family, de Chagny," said Harker quietly.

Hot tears of grief and anger stung de Chagny's eyes, and Harker smiled malevolently. "Oh, I'm sorry..." whispered Harker, "I forgot about your son. The gendarme that shot him says he died... well."

"Protecting his mother," murmured the Marquis numbly.

"A pity," said Harker. "A pity because they had her anyway, didn't they? Again, and again, and again..."

With a ferocious energy the Marquis leapt at Harker and tried to grapple the man, tried to make him feel just an ounce of the suffering he'd been through. Harker brushed him aside as a cat does a child's doll, and de Chagny crumpled to his knees sobbing. The inquisitor looked disdainfully down at his quarry. "You are beaten, de Chagny. You've lost. You knew from the very first moment that there was no way you could beat me, and yet you fought me just the same. I expect you think yourself very brave." Harker leaned in closer to the Marquis and spoke softly. "Do you know what courage is, de Chagny? It is the truest form of cowardice. It belongs to those too frightened to run away from what they fear, because that outcome is unsure."

"You call me a coward for facing you, Harker?" demanded the Marquis, "For believing in courage, honor, devotion and love?"

"No, for that I call you an idealist and a fool, de Chagny," snapped Harker. "Everything you've ever believed in is either a lie or a piece of sentimental garbage. Everything you've ever loved is either dead and corrupted by the grave or an insignificant pile of grey ash. You have nothing left to live for, but you were too afraid to sign your own death order without a powerful reason. You faced me out of a fear of meaninglessness. Your courage was a selfish and cowardly illusion devised to create a reason to end your suffering. Now tell me," said Harker, his voice by this time loud and terrible, "have I given you a good enough reason?!"

A silence too terrible to describe followed this final outburst, and the tortured Marquis ran tense fingers over his scalp. Then, in a hoarse, pitiful whisper, he asked for the confession and a pen. The rest was very simple. The Marquis signed, and Harker left.

Checkmate.