Palos, the swordsman of faith and death

Death is a sacred blessing and Palos is the one who administers it. He is called psychopath, murderer, criminal and worse, yet he knows he is the most holy of all. He is on a crusade, bestowing a better life on those who need it, showing them their delusion as they cling to a false existence.

It cannot be claimed that Palos is a lone thinker in this way. Many of varying religions have discussed an eternal haven for those who follow the right path, some daring to proclaim that this is the life to be lived, to urge others to find it and go to it. There have been death cults and suicide pacts. But Palos is a unique figure. He walks alone and kills as he can, belonging to no radical group. He sees himself as a chosen one, and he may be right.

For all his fanatical belief, there is something more remarkable about Palos. His swordsmanship. Many would say he is the best swordsmanship in the world. He makes no such claim, finding bragging abhorrent, yet there is no doubt that if he isn’t the best, he is among the finest there can be. His skill is extraordinary, as is his poise and composure. He has been witnessed multiple times amidst gangs of thugs, cutting them down one by one with his two blades, never faltering, never missing, a whirlwind of deadly perfection.

This comes as less of a surprise considering his home. Palos comes from a nation that has little to do with the rest of the world, yet is famous for two things – a strong religion that believes in peace, and a powerful military that ensures that peace. Palos follows the faith of his land yet on another course, seeing the others as misguided. But he is clearly the product of the martial society he comes from, possibly trained with swords since a child. The truth of Palos’s upbringing will never be known, nor why he left his homeland. He will not speak of anything about himself other than proclaim his holy mission. His people will not acknowledge him, not that they are forthcoming on any information about themselves either.

So Palos is remarkable. The only one of his people who travels the world, and he brings death to many in the form of his superbly crafted swords. There are no tales of anyone ever defeating him, even wounding him. He is a terrifying figure of relentless intent, unshakeable in his conviction, unmatched at duelling, unknown to any personal degree. He is hated, despised and feared. He has no friends or even acquaintances. He believes he has no enemies either, for he kills without animosity. He kills to deliver people from the burden of life. He is their saviour, and it vexes him how so few see this the same way.

Of course, many question how such a devout man of faith has become so immersed in the criminal world, although few dare say anything to Palos’ face. He is openly disgusted by the licentiousness of those around him. Murderers and gangsters make people fear death, which is at odds with Palos and his goal. He would love nothing more than to slaughter them all. So why does he work among them? Why is he one of them? Palos counters that he isn’t one. He insists he is a holy warrior. For him, that is excuse enough, but he is also a mere man who needs pay, which he won’t admit.

Still, some accuse Palos of being a bloodthirsty killer who needs to twist the ideology he was raised in to excuse his actions. That he is a hired thug with exceptional skills. No more. He works among criminals because he is one. This never concerns Palos. He knows what he is. He is a divine warrior rescuing people from a blighted existence. He will never stop doing so and there are few in the world who would even try.

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Valtar, the noble turned criminal

Valtar loves life, and with good reason. To him, everything is there for the taking and the tasting. Born into a rich, powerful family from the prosperous nation of Paxos, Valtar grew up being given everything he wanted. His parents were decadent people who would rather have their son educated by professionals than bother with him themselves, and so it should be no surprise that he knows nothing of real relationships with other people. Valtar sees people as toys or pets. He wanted for nothing for so long, having no use for anyone, that he cannot change. Valtar has lost his riches and power, but he still prowls through the world, seeking pleasure and entertainment, and death.

Valtar has a natural liking for hunting, previously partaking in it often as a nobleman, but it now pays off as he hunts people down for money. He was exiled from Paxos years ago by his political enemies. At first, all he could think of was revenge. Valtar is a clever man, if arrogant, and he had resources available after his exile, so he was able to hunt down those who wronged him. After that, Valtar had to live a new life, so he simply continued doing what he had begun – hunting and killing people as work. He enjoys it, a lot, but Valtar needs the pay to get by in life. He is now a highly rated and so costly killer, yet his lifestyle means he rarely keeps hold of the money he earns. Valtar hunts, kills, earns and enjoys, and then has to do it all again. Of course, for him, that isn’t a problem. Hunting and killing people isn’t really work for him. He would rather spend most of his time in bed with paid professionals, yet hunting is a mixture of thrill and effort that he can easily live with.

As much as he is a vain and perverse individual, there is no question as to Valtar’s ability with the crossbow. His own device is a superior make to most weapons used in the criminal world, with a smoother action and surer sighting, but Valtar is still a deadly shot, usually composed, almost casual, amongst violence as he lines up his target. He is also known as an excellent tracker. If you discover that Valtar has been hired to hunt you down, the chances are he will find you in time. Run and he will chase you. Hide and he will find you. Resist and he will shoot you down, unless you can surprise him or get in close. Valtar is no fighter, nor is he reckless. He hunts from distance as much as he can because it suits him and lessens the risks. He will run if he is threatened, but then he will come back after you. His pride wouldn’t allow things to end that way, even if his contract might.

There is another important factor to Valtar’s life concerning something he has now and once took for granted. Power. He had it, with servants and serfs obeying any request he made, and then he lost it. Wealth gives a power and he was able to live on that for a while, yet over the time he has made his name as an expert huntsman, Valtar has learned the taste of power again. He is feared. His name makes known killers turn tail and flee rather than try to face him down. Common people bow and mumble their compliance. Rich merchants flatter and pander to him in order to gain his service. Valtar has a new kind of power, one that an inherited title could never grant him. His deeds and skills elicit dread and admiration. As such, he has power over others.

Valtar left Paxos long ago, but he has never lost the taste for a life of luxury and hedonism. He hunts and kills, he spends and partakes, and he relishes the fawning of others weaker than himself, and so he wants more. He wants all the pleasures and decadence that life could possibly grant him. He once thought he would live out his life satisfying himself continuously. Then he lost his status and lifestyle, so that now, he finds it all the more intensely exciting to be who he is. In Callascino, with the other elite, Valtar strides among supposed equals to hunt at his pleasure and to gain a fortune that will ensure his dreams come true.

Saquar, the charming combatant

Saquar has an easy going charm that comes only from being a natural. The things he does in life are the things that come easy to him. He does them not just because he can but because he excels at them. Therefore he has complete confidence in himself and loves to let it show.

He was something of a star in his youth, the best hunter and fighter in his large village. Among the Saecens, physical prowess is to be revered and can cover a multitude of sins, so his love for other males was an open secret. In truth, such lusts were more common among the warriors than any would admit, but Saquar truly loved and saw no reason to hide it. He charmed many a curious young man into his bed, and also intimidated some less eager ones as well. For Saquar, life was here for him to sample, and still is. Fighting and fucking came easily, so he did both. A lot.

Yet he also has a drive in him. A hunger, almost. Saquar excelled so much in his youth that he felt no challenge, no sense of achievement. He became bored.

Then he saw a warlock. Among the Saecens, this archaic term now represents a specialist sect of fighters who live for one thing and one thing only – to kill all other warlocks. It seems mad to anyone else, and in truth it has a madness about it, for the warlocks have been around for centuries and never have they come close to ending, but to Saquar it had an irresistible appeal. Warlocks are superb fighters and seek out conflict to better themselves. They live for bloodshed and challenges, and the more Saquar had learned about this group, the more he desired to be among them.

To be a warlock, you have to kill one. Saquar trained even harder and mentally prepared himself. Either he would win and become what he wanted or he would die. Death did not hold the fear it should have. He would rather end than not find a reason to live.

Saquar encountered a warlock, challenged him and won. It was the hardest fight he had ever known and satisfied him on a level nothing else had before. This was the beginning for him. He now had a purpose. To fight and better himself anywhere he can, for the simple goal of killing other warlocks.

And yet life remains easy for him. Saquar’s mission has made him a highly rated enforcer. He has travelled to many places and killed many people, and that came easy too. The deaths of others have little meaning to him. Saquar feels more emotion over killing a warlock than anything else. He has killed over a dozen so far. Fortunately, there are hundreds more yet to kill.

Saquar has a casual swagger about him that comes from a lifetime of being among the best, if not the best. He has little to fear in life and fully expects to one day die to another warlock – hopefully when he is older and greyer and tired of bedding young men. Anything else would be disappointing. But he also enjoys life that bit more because he knows his place in it. His life is set. Train, fight, kill and one day be killed, and enjoy sex along the way. That is all there is. He isn’t trying to settle anywhere or provide for anyone. He isn’t looking to master new things or start a new path. He walks the path he has always walked and knows where he is headed. He wants little in life and is getting it, so he struts along with a smile on his face, looking forward to his next warlock kill.

Rugal, the pale knifeman

Fear is Rugal’s drug of choice. When he was a young albino kid in the streets of the city Deseel, he found he would rather be an outcast who was feared than ever be accepted by others. He not only embraced the unease his appearance caused but enhanced it as much as possible: wearing all white, selecting the softest footwear, even speaking in a hushed voice constantly. He created and then spread rumours of himself, embracing every uneasy glance, every anxious shudder. Fear gave him power. But more than that, he simply loved it. He still does.

Criminals are feared, skilled killers the most. What is more feared than death? Rugal is a natural killer, drawn to it by impulse. Fortunately for him, his home was riddled with crime, as are all the city states of Central Una. He never lacks for work. His nights of watching street fights and collecting used knives are long behind him. He is an expert assassin, dubbed the Ghost of Death for his all white appearance – a final taunt of terror to his victims. He will always try to cause as much fear in his prey as possible. He just has to taste it.

Rugal is highly skilled, especially when it comes to hunting and duelling. He knows how to hunt people down as well as avoid detection. His ability with knives is known far and wide, whether hurling them accurately with smooth waves of his hands or deftly wielding them in close combat. He deceives too. He is an albino but his eyes are no weaker than any ordinary person, which often surprises. So he wears dark glasses to make others think that isn’t the case, as well as add to his unusual look. He can lure an adept fighter into underestimating him or terrify an opponent into hesitating just a second, which is all he needs. Of course, few underestimate him now, such is his fame, but that just means more fear him. When people glimpse a white figure in the night, they would rather it was a real ghost than Rugal.

He is estimated as one of the best assassins in the world. But for him, he would rather taste the fear of another – man, woman or child – than get the job done. He isn’t killing for the fame or the money anymore, those are just benefits. Rugal lives for fear. He wears white to become a ghost in the nightmares of others, despite the practical risks at night. He still wears the dark glasses for the look, even in a dark room. He never goes for the quick kill unless absolutely necessary. Even then, the temptation is strong. Rugal knows he will never be a popular person. He will never be ordinary. He is a killer by trade but a predator by nature. He accepts this. He enjoys it. Predators are feared. He can never have enough fear. That is the main reason he is among the elite now and about to take part in a highly dangerous gang war. This will not only provide him with fear galore, but he will use this conflict to define himself as the most terrifying thing in the world. He will slip through alleys and kill notorious criminals, and then the infamy of the Ghost of Death will last for ever.

Gregan, the mad monster

Gregan is easy to describe. Brute. Monster. Maniac. He is a simple beast in the eyes of most who know him. Driven by anger and hate, he maims and kills with a savage gratification that even experienced killers find appalling. He is without remorse, nor does he relent when the killing begins. A hulking bastard of a man, he can face down gangs by himself because not only do they know that to fight him will lead to their deaths, but that once he attacks, there will be no escape. Gregan kills all who anger him. He demolishes any who oppose him. He is the most dreaded enforcer the world has known.

Tales of his exploits are widespread. His large, double-headed axe is almost as famous as himself – the weapon that has carved so many people open. But he has killed with his hands often enough, as well as stomped on heads or necks, so his powerful frame is rightly seen as another weapon. Gregan’s fury has led him to being an adaptable fighter, grabbing anything around him to use as he waylays everyone in his path. If Gregan can pick it up, and as strong as he is that is most things, then he can use it. Supposedly, he has smashed men down with a horse and once even clubbed a man to death with his own child.

Gregan is thoroughly unpleasant to be around. He says little, kills for the slightest reason and takes as he wishes. Therefore few work with him and get to know him or want to work with him again. He has turned on his employers more than once. Gregan is sought after because he can win a gang war single-handed, and yet those on his side long for the moment the conflict is over so they can be rid of him. He is a devastating individual and not just to those he is aimed at. To him, all others are enemies, there to be crushed. For these reasons, he is one of the most demonised criminals, up there with Drem and Rugal, an unknowable entity marked by death and mayhem. While those killers are mysterious and subtle, Gregan is daunting in his size, power and murderous manner, so people see a monster and nothing more. When art was created to go with the tales of him, as happened to the most famous killers, he was always depicted as a giant, capable of devouring humans. Such pictures stopped when he encountered an artist with work of him and he ripped his arms off.

Few in the world can take Gregan on. He seems to fear nothing, or at least his hate overpowers any other emotion so he charges into fights. At the same time, a Gregan charge has scattered gangs and militia alike, so perhaps it is a smart move for him. Some suspect Gregan isn’t a simple beast of a man, after all. In his thirties, he certainly has learned enough lessons in the criminal world not to be underestimated. But he remains quick to anger, a destroyer on impulse, choosing to attack head on and kill everything he can, then deal with whatever consequences that come about. If Gregan is a thinker at any level he is a primal one, fashioned by years of bloodshed, a threat to everyone in the world.

Of all the elite, Gregan is the most unstable and the most distrusted. He is also among the most feared and perhaps the most important to win the war. No one can tell how it will go with him. If the war keeps him occupied then that would be enough. If not, there had better be something else to keep his hatred focused or his comrades will have to face the monster themselves.

Heart of Darkness

I have just read Heart of Darkness, written by Joseph Conrad. Not quite what I expected. My main understanding of this book was the film, Apocalypse Now. I can see how this inspired that film, yet they are a long way apart. Kurtz in this book is more of a wraith than the imposing, bald figure of Marlon Brando. I had more understanding for what the film’s Kurtz was about too. Why he did what he did, what he had done, the depths he had sunk to and the effects it had had on others.

In this book, Kurtz reminded me of Captain Flint in Treasure Island or Sauron in the Lord of the Rings – a figure who dominates conversations yet doesn’t appear. Well, okay, Kurtz does show up physically, finally, yet he feels like he is fading fast and beyond his powers. But the build up to him was impressive. I wanted to meet this enigmatic figure of such deeds, just as Marlowe did. I wanted to know so much more about him! That was perhaps my main disappointment. I wanted to really get into Kurtz, listen to him talk, find out all that he done, how he had become like a god to the natives and what he had led them to do. We get the most fleeting of tastes. Perhaps that is what makes the book compelling. There is so much left for us to think about.

I understand why people have issues on the racist tone of this book, but honestly, it felt right. This was a racist time, where white Europeans mastered Africa with contempt for those living there. That is clearly shown. This isn’t some bullshit World War Two movie where white and black soldiers fight alongside each other against the mean old Nazis, pretending only the enemy were racists. This shows how the invaders sought plunder and the means to get it. They would use anything and anyone. Kurtz epitomises that. He is like a monstrous apparition of Europe’s greed. To try to sanitise the racist views would be to try and hide the truth.

Still, it can make for uncomfortable reading, not least as you suspect there are elements of truth here. There are several people that many suspect Conrad based Kurtz on. Imperialism was never kind to the colonies. It could have benefits to some, sure, but also serious problems. Here, we see a messy mass of greedy interlopers out for themselves. Kurtz may be worse than them all, yet he has something outstanding about him too. He never comes across as petty. He is avarice in human form. He is greatness in all its terrible splendour. He has intelligence, sophistication, strong will, a commanding presence – all the materials to be a leader in a new territory. In many ways he could be someone held up as a great example of a European hero, conquering and commanding. But he is one in the true sense – ruthless, savage, cruel. He could be an Ahab, leading others by sheer force of personality. The Russian Harlequin Marlowe meets proves this. It would have been great to know more of him this way, driving into the jungle, into the people, and finding just how far he could go. He is a man of great resourcefulness and self-determination. But that also makes him someone to be feared. By the other white agents too. His success has become anathema to them. Marlowe has to bring him back because Kurtz won’t be restrained. Yet Kurtz is already dying. Almost as if his own rapacious nature has worn him out.

Kurtz feels less of a human being, less of a fully rounded character, than an apparition, an example, a metaphor of sorts. He possesses lots of qualities others boast about, and he brags of them too, and yet lots of atrocities to carry as a sin. He represents so many things, but we can never define him. Again, this could be the lure. I read to the end expecting some revelation that could help me grasp him. I never got one. I never quite got why Marlowe found him so entrancing and why he felt so loyal to him. Of course, there was his voice, which doesn’t work on a reader. Still, I struggled to understand the power of this figure. So often I hear the lesson ‘show, don’t tell’. Well in Heart of Darkness most of what we get is characters telling Marlowe, and so us, of Kurtz and then he tells his listeners, and they all are in awe. I needed awe to be shown.

Even so, there was something compelling about Kurtz. Makes you want to create a character like him. Someone so complex, so marvellous and yet so horrifying, and to explore that nature. For all that I wanted more from him and this story, he does fit with the likes of Ahab, Dracula, Nemo, Coriolanus and others. Individuals who could impress their will on others, who could captivate through sheer personality and even lead others to their doom, willingly, if it suited their own drives. They could also lead themselves to the same fate.

I’m sure once this book would have been fascinating to read to learn about Africa, but by today it adds little and portrays so much through the eyes of those who care nothing for it that it comes across as crass. Natives are deemed stupid, savage, worthless. There is some good description of the jungle and river travel, but nothing that gives you a feel for Africa. Again, that fits to the intent of the narrative, but for me, having read books and watched documentaries, it is dull if not barbaric. It is a tale for the white man of the past. The invader, the conqueror, the glutton.

Marlowe is a decent enough character, but he is designed to be passive. He is regaling others with his past so he is not the focus. He isn’t meant to stand out. We do meet a series of individuals, though. Most without names. They have, however, notable characters. I was quite impressed with how Conrad could describe the details of a man Marlowe would meet, then imprint the personality, and all for someone we won’t even spend much time with. The sly manager who boasts of never falling ill so he can outlast anyone, who resents and fears Kurtz. The Russian Harlequin who reveres Kurtz and sees only the best in him, to pass on that concept to Marlowe and us. Even the pilot who Marlowe despises for his incompetence and yet deeply regrets his death. Stark characters. Stark while brief.

It was an interesting read. Quick too. I got into it easily enough, became intrigued by the journey, although I was surprised at how long it took to get going. Being stuck along the river with the boat needing repairs was almost as frustrating for me as it was for Marlowe. It could be a bit slow to some readers but I felt there was plenty going on to keep me reading.

I’m not sure I would have read this if it hadn’t been the inspiration for Apocalypse Now, which is one of my favourite films. But I do think that even without it, I would have been drawn in enough to keep reading. Kurtz is a striking and influential personality, although not as much as Brando’s performance was. It was worth reading. Yet now I have it in my head, I’m not sure when or if I’ll ever read it again. The wraith that was Kurtz was all I took in truth, and all I wanted to take.

I Am Legend Audio

In 2007, the BBC aired a reading of I Am Legend. The book, of course. They are currently replaying it. The second episode aired last night. Not sure how many there are.

I have heard of the book and how different it was from the movie of the same name not so long ago. I have also seen the film, the Last Man on Earth, starring Vincent Price, which is much more closer to it. I really like that movie – the newer one not so much – and what I heard of the book impressed me.

Listening to it, I am glad to say it matches my expectation. The reading by Angus McInnes (don’t know him, but has a good, clear American voice) is well done, putting a strong amount of emotion into it without overacting. The story of Neville, a simple man trying to survive against vampire besiegers and loneliness, is compelling work. I do like that he is just some bloke too. It feels more everyman. It feels about going against creating some kind of superman survivor – someone special to be in awe of and hoping he can bring hope to a new world. This is just some man, getting by, having learned hard lessons, and being motivated by hatred of these creatures.

So if you can listen to this at all, I highly recommend it. If not, watch the movie, the Last Man on Earth. The later movie, and also the Omega Man starring Charlton Heston, aren’t bad, but I don’t think either really delves into the mind of a single survivor and the madness that eats at being alone in the world.