I haven’t posted a sample of my fiction here in a while. I thought it might be time again to show the world what my word-weaving ways are like these days, and I have the perfect chapter to do it. This is the first chapter of the third installment of my book, Buried Hope, but it’s also the introduction of a POV character so you won’t be too confused. Some of the terms and locations will be difficult to grasp probably, to someone who hasn’t read the first 120k words of this story, but just imagine it as an underground prison, I suppose. Again — don’t expect to get it completely if you haven’t read Buried Hope 1 and 2. This is simply just to show my writing.
Hope you guys like it!
THE MAN WITHOUT A FACE
The Faceless Man’s blood began to ripple beneath his clay flesh.
From then onwards, the world around him vanished as his mind succumbed to the unmatched agony of a process he had never dared to consider; and now it was uncertain if he would survive this pain that might thrust him over to death’s Beyond. The unlit and unwalked halls of the Upper Catacombs were suddenly draped by a darkness that consumed existence in its entirety, and the last thing the Faceless Man heard—the clandestine door to the Eye’s Chamber before him, his knees fallen to the floor and his hands clawing at his accursed face—was his own screaming.
And he knew in his lonely heart that if and when he died, the Eye would most certainly blink.
It had always been this way for the Faceless Man, but as a child he had not been the Faceless Boy. Back then he was nothing. Born in the damp shadows of a world beneath the world, where men had huddled in the blackness for over a thousand years, the babe who grew without a face had never felt the tiniest trace of love. The crying husk of flesh and bone he was so many years ago had been abandoned by whatever demons had born him, and those who found him only spared him death as they could not look above his neck without seeing the face of repulsiveness staring back.
But I survived. Some had fed him what little they could spare. Where he had begun in the world was a mystery to him, but it was in Column 1 where the citizens began to care, if just long enough for him to suckle enough to wet his lips. It was dirt that saved him, ultimately. Dirt the old men called dead, dirt that symbolized a reality unworth living. Only when he was dirtiest—crusted with layers of the earth’s pestilent guts, wetted with mud like one wetted with water as one walks nakedly from a bath—could the citizens not see the face that made all others run in terror. And those of Column 1 knew the babe who was skin and bones needed sustenance over cleansing, and so it was sustenance he received before they wiped him clean, before they saw what he was, and before they left him like all the others.
By the age that he could walk and talk and remember faces and say names, the boy understood his part in the world, or thought he did. Had he been in any other Column, the watchers behind the walls would have taken him, but Column 1 was a rugged place where impending rebellion slept like an oil-soaked wick in a chamber of sparks. In Column 1 it was not out of place to see a child wandering in the narrow corridors, keeping to the shadows so the bigger people would not call him a freak.
And so in the underworld, the boy without a face and a name grew.
The Faceless Man screamed again. Sweat trailed off every pore of his body, trickles of blood following every tenth clear droplet. No, the broken man thought desperately as he stared at the red drops falling off him, I need you, SPES NEEDS YOU, please don’t leave—His spine lurched backwards and his open jaw howled into the ceiling above. His hands ran over his face, and he could feel things squirming beneath his flesh. They felt like worms, like his veins had tangled amongst themselves and were being tugged from his ears. This pain was unlike any other—morphing his face into another’s had never been an easy task, no matter how hard he bit against his rags and suppressed his moans. To feel your nose dissipating away, your ears melting as invisible swords bore into them, your bones breaking and bending until the shape of another’s face was replicated. At times it left him exhausted to the point where days would pass before he could wake again. But this time it was different, this time it was worse. It was not his face he was changing—it was his blood, and inside his body erupted a heat that engulfed his heart, the beating source of his unkind life.
The Faceless Man cried, screamed, moaned, and curled to the carpeted floor, holding the dripping blood in his hands, staring at it with bulging eyes, wondering, wondering, wondering if somehow his insane gamble would work.
Or if he would die. The last of my blood. I am royalty, Remy, halo of my heart. I am royalty, and I can be anyone you want me to be.
Blackness again, and the faintest hints of blue.
He was four when he first saw the face that made others flee. Mirrors were not a plentiful amenity in Column 1, and the boy was not very enthusiastic to look upon himself. I must be ugly, the toddler would think, and when he observed the fat men with warts on their faces, diseases that dotted blots along their skin, scars that had taken chunks off their appearance, and how simply those men took part in their society and did not force others to run, the toddler could only think: I must be very, very ugly.
But it was much more than he would have ever imagined. When he snuck into the one cell where he knew a piece of reflecting glass had been hung, the little boy saw the demon that others knew him as. Standing upon the stool on tip-toed feet and looking into the mirror, the smell of feces reeking from the corners of the box-sized room, the face staring back at him was not a face at all. There were two eyes, a nose, a mouth, and two holes near where ears should have been, but they did not make a face. The skin was like white-painted leather stretched over a bumpy surface, and the other things had been scattered randomly throughout: one eye was high upon his forehead, its eyebrow running across it; the other eye was a bit lower, where eyes should be; his nose was sideways and the left nostril was collapsed inward; the mouth had no lips, no pout where the soft rims should have pointed, and instead the skin just cut there to make a strip, as if his creator had exhausted its supply of lips; and his ears were two holes in the side of his head, one at the edge of his cheek and the other almost halfway down his neck. Deep within he always knew there were irregularities with his face—Why else do they run?—but he never imagined it to be this.
That night the boy cried. In the loneliest part of Column 1, where the true rats hissed and snarled at him for invading their pavilion, the boy cried. He blamed no one for he had no one to blame, he hated no one for he had no one to hate, so the worst kind of tears left him, those that had no meaning but for the natural course of life. Was he natural? Was he human? Why am I like this? Why me? What am I?
In the early hours of that morning, between three bells and four, the watchers behind the walls grew tired of the wailing and went for the boy. At the sight of the monstrosity, they placed a bag over his head, rolled him into a cage, then carried him to a locked chamber deep within the quiet road. They will kill me, the boy thought, knowing the concept of death even then. He had seen the way those black guards dragged full-grown men and women out of their cells, and no matter how much they kicked and screamed, they would never be seen again. They will kill me for being me, for being ugly. He continued crying and wishing it were not so, wishing things were different. He cried for a mommy, for a daddy, for a home. He cried to be loved, to be held. But mostly the boy cried because he knew things would not and could not change, and the world would be better off without him.
The dreams he had when teary sleep finally took him were so vivid he thought he had already been awoken without waking, that somehow his punishment was happening while he was aslumber. Giant men cloaked in blue ran steaming metal knives over his face, slicing him apart. His jaw twisted around and his head exploded as a pain deep within his brain—beneath the bone, beneath the bone—ricocheted off the curves of his tiny skull. Later he would know the pain as teething, but teething for the entire head.
And when he woke, and the lights were lit and the guards with their heavy boots released him from his cage and lifted the bag from his head, the two men in black exchanged a strange look. “This is not the thing from before,” one said, and the other guard answered, “Monsters take shape in the darkness.” To the boy then, the first guard said, “Child,” in a kind tone the boy had never been given before, “let us return you to your cell.”
When the first guard took the boy’s hand and led him across the metal room and the halls beyond, the bewildered boy glimpsed at a mirror hanging off the wall. He was not the thing he saw yesterday. Curly blonde hair, blue eyes, and freckles upon a button nose. I am pretty, I am pretty! He broke his hand from the guard and ran closer to the mirror, examining his new face, reveling in each meticulous detail, but soon the horror crept in as he realized this was not the first time he had seen this face upon his face.
No, it is Remy, Remy the sweet boy with the sweets. This face that looked at him with the same lost eyes had looked at him half a dozen times before, on those brief instances when the boy left his caul of shadows and dared to see the other children. Most would run and scream, few would point and taunt half-heartedly, but the blonde boy with the curly locks would stare. Not love, no, not anywhere near that, but it was not disgust—just interest. Remy always carried tiny colored stones, sweets that made the tongue dance and wet, and the blonde boy had given the monster boy two pieces of his sweets. It was the only kind act ever dealt to the boy to his unhidden face. The boy did not eat the sweets but wrapped them in paper to keep them safe, and held them in his hands to remind him of that single kindness.
His name is Remy, and he gives me sweet things.
For months he kept the face, but every day the boy knew it was wrong. He left the Section where the true Remy lived, for even then the boy of four was smart. In another Section he mingled with the children of an orphan cell until the bigger people took him as their own. It was nice at first, nice to be played with, nice to be cared about, for even in the darkness of a world like Column 1 eyes could still glimmer and voices could still laugh. But it was not him to whom their friendships were bound. They do not love me. They love Remy. They love these golden locks and these blue eyes. They love how handsome Remy is. If his face were to one day return to how it was, so would these others who were now his friends.
And like a man knows men were not meant to live beneath the earth, a deep, insidious thought most men refuse to speak until they are old and can see death’s door on the horizon, the boy—who had taken the name of Remy, as it did not seem right to steal another’s face without honoring him somehow—knew the face could be changed, that his skin was like clay. It was an instinctive fact no one had ever told him or could tell him, as he learned there were no others who had the same talent as he. But still he knew it, a piece of knowledge embedded in his blood. This is not my face, the boy thought over the years, and I am not Remy. This is not right.
Yet still he wore the mask, as behind the mask they would not love him. His cowardly nature began to fade with every new friend he made. His jitters lessened over time, his smiles became truer and his laughs became frequent. He was normal now, finally normal, and when the children came to the age of courtship, and boys paired with girls and girls paired with boys and all who sought no partner were considered queer… the boy-who-was-not-Remy remembered the handsome face he’d loved for all these years and sought the real boy to whom it belonged. Was it narcissism to love his twin? Was it narcissism to refer to Remy as his twin, when he was but a plunderer of looks?
And is it wrong to love a boy? fragile fake-Remy wondered, never daring to speak such a query to those he called friends. Could he change the way he felt, just as he’d changed the way he looked? Did other boys force themselves to love the opposite sex, did other boys have to… decide? Would Remy? No, false-Remy would cry in the darkest nights of his orphan cell, not a year older than fourteen. Why is everything about you wrong? Why is everything you are ABNORMAL?
But there was a chance. The faceless boy found sweet Remy, and he was still beautiful. Even in the darkness and dampness and dreariness that was Column 1, where lights flickered dimly and arrogant rats did not scurry when threatened, where the old men died of curable diseases and only lacked attention, the true Remy was beautiful. It is the smile, the boy always thought, but even when there were no smiles his eyes were still captured.
False-Remy watched True-Remy over the course of several weeks, following his eyes whenever a pretty boy or girl walked by. And False-Remy’s heart sank, as True-Remy’s interests were most definitely in firm breasts and rears, and False-Remy took this as another strike from the world, telling him that no matter what face he donned the freak still lived beneath his heart.
But this is Remy, the boy thought, sweet Remy who did not run, sweet Remy, halo of my heart with the sweets I always hold.
So the pretender approached the truth one day, cornering him in a dark hall where only they existed. The wrapped sweets were in the boy’s hands, as they always were, and when Remy saw his own face staring back at him, True-Remy gasped, half-way terrified and half-way confused, and asked, “Who are you?”
“Do you remember me?” the pretender began to say. For the first time since that wretched night in the cage, the boy forced his face to change. Sweat burst from his forehead as the shape of his face twisted and curved, as his nose broke itself, the cracking like sharp blasts in his head, as the skull reformed around his unstable brain. And when it was done, the boy inhaling air as if he had run a thousand miles, he knew his face had returned, he knew his horror was back. And there was Remy, staring at him like the way he’d stared at him as a child. “Do you remember me?” he whispered.
Remy said nothing, backing away with a frozen gape.
False-Remy saw the doubt in those eyes, and he knew he was losing. “I can be anyone,” he said, “anyone you wish. The girl Maria, or perhaps Margery? I can be them, I can change to them.” He had never been a woman before, but his blood said Yes, yes it can be done. Your breasts will grow and your genitals will hide inwards, but yes it can be done.
“I don’t know what you are,” Remy muttered, “I don’t want to know!”
“It’s m-me,” stuttered False-Remy, horrified at this. I have scared him, oh Eye I have scared him. “The boy you gave your sweets—”
“You’re a freak!” screamed Remy. “ You were a freak back then and you’re a freak now, you can’t change! Get away from me! You’re a fucking freak!”
In the abandoned hallway of the Upper Catacombs, the Faceless Man was dying. The blood was not taking it. His body was resisting his command, and the pain defecating from every inch inside of him was unbelievable. He was being torn apart beneath his skin, ripped and shredded beneath the bag that was his body. I am dying, Remy, halo of my heart, sinner to my soul. You were right. I cannot change.
Tears dripped down his cheeks. Is this the end? The Faceless Man wondered, unable to stand, his lightning blade numbing his right leg as he lay collapsed on the floor. His plans were going so well. It had started with Number Thirty-Two, the boy who donned the golden cloak, who was unprepared and foolish. When the boy Number took his virgin voyage before bedding his bride and planting his seed, the only difficult task was slipping the message in the old Chancellor’s notes to the Eye, who had always been too placid to read and write his own letters.
But that is not where it began, is it?
It was only one death, only one murder.
But still a murder by your hands.
It was necessary, so the boy Number would take the cloak before he was prepared.
Necessary to end the greatest bloodling? Is that what a normal man would say, or a frea—
The Faceless Man cried, his eyes closed. He knew what color his tears would be.
And the new Chancellor—whose name was Chandler and who had raped Miles’ wife before he was sent away—had been naïve, always so naïve. Naïve enough to require assistance for the notes to send to the Eye, though he was as unprepared for the task as Victor had been for the outer world. So he had called for help, and the Faceless Man had been there to heed the secret duties.
But the Chancellor was captured by the rebels, the blood to open the Eye’s Chamber was lost, and the one-handed man who had almost been the Faceless Man’s friend abandoned him. There was more to his one-handed friend than what he revealed, but that is true of all men, he knew. How did you come by the Number’s note, friend? “And Spes will too,” the Faceless Man uttered, remembering the Eye’s genocidal threat.
If only they would let me see the boy. The years are right. The boy is nine, nearly ten, and he is not blonde. He is handsomer, but boys are always handsomer than their fathers. His blood would work, his blood would work! Do they really believe the boy is Miles’ kin? Do they not realize the consequences at stake? But as expected, Miles’ wife had kept her bastard son hidden since the rebellion began. She denies it, and even Miles denies it, such a sham on his fickle pride. And the Iron Maiden was always nearby. She with the hammer hands, the true wielder of the Obso line.
The Faceless Man lay on the lavish floor of the dark hallway before the Eye’s Chamber, the panel that only woke to the swipe of the Chancellor’s blood now dried. There would be no guards in the quiet road here, as these halls had been left to rot since the Unnamed War. It had been three weeks since the last note had been sent, and the Eye would be wondering now. The Eye would end the city, and somewhere in the Beyond, Remy and all the others would mutter, “The freak has failed, the freak has failed.”
Friend, why did you abandon me? I did not show you my true face. Why did you abandon me?
Another eruption of pain bit into the back of his neck, and the Faceless Man fainted once again, a mouthful of blood the last thing he understood before the black and blue darkness returned.
After the night he would never forget, the boy took Remy’s words to heart. I am a freak, and I cannot change. A smart man would have killed himself, a brave man would have turned himself to the guards—he was not meant for this world. But the boy was neither smart nor brave. He was a coward, and death was a destination he did not look upon with open arms. Instead he gave himself a simple face, with flat lips and a short nose, small eyes and peg ears, round cheeks and jaws that did not hurt as much as straight bones did.
The lonely boy became a lonely man, but he rose up the Columns with his face of clay, deceiving just enough for his own meager benefit, and never enough to cause harm to those he fooled. His cells grew bigger, his wealth richer, and when he was a man of Column 9, he could have taken the face of a beautiful man—Remy, the sweet boy with the sweets—to take a beautiful wife and have beautiful children.
He could be happy.
But those thoughts did not make him happy, those prospects were not perennial goals for him as they were for everyone else. There was only one thing, one person he wanted, and no wealth could amass it for him. In the nights, nights when he held the old sweet childhood stones in his sweaty palms (for these stones he could never be without, and when he played the part of other men, other small objects replaced his sweets), he still heard his heart’s halo cry the same scream that echoed everyone else: “YOU ARE A FREAK, YOU CANNOT CHANGE!” Had Remy been right? Could he truly not change? If his face and name and wealth could be so easily transformed by a few minutes of agony, what was it that could not be changed? His desire for another man? Is that what made him who he was? Is that what defined him?
But then the Faceless Man learned of the extinct royal lines, the forgotten five families that had died in the Unnamed War. He learned of the Roinars who could shift their appearance, and he knew somehow he had been descended from them. It is my blood then. It is my blood that must be changed, Remy, halo of my heart, sinner to my soul, lover whom I lost though never, ever had.
And in the darkness he practiced. Between the other tasks the Faceless Man had taken to preoccupy his life, he practiced the changing of blood, willing it to be something else. He could touch it, feel it, realize the point he needed to cross for the conversion to occur; but it was painful, different, deadly, and he could not force himself to touch the threshold—I am sorry I frightened you, Remy—until tonight.
The Faceless Man woke. His limbs were sprawled around him, the stolen white robes of the Chancellor sleeping on his thin body like a blanket; though it was no longer white, but almost velvet red where his blood had stained it. There was a deep thumming in his head. His hands were beating with his pulse, and with each thump there was blood, squeezing itself from his palms.
He knew then he would not die. The pain’s zenith had subsided, an agonizing shadow of what it previously was.
He had survived the ordeal, but had the blood changed? Would the door now open for him, would he save the world in which he could never be a part? And if the blood were now another’s, what would that make him? A man’s life is not his face, not his skin, not his weight or his blemishes or his fingers or his feet; the life is in a man’s blood, the nectar of the body and the sap of the incessant heart. Would he be different, now? Would he be… worthy? I can never truly change, said his secret heart, said the consciousness he did not want to know. I am only a mirror, a chip on the wall.
I am false.
Slowly, he forced himself to his feet. His weak legs collapsed beneath him and he fell with a thud, landing on one shaking knee and thin arms, arms much too thin to be the Chancellor’s. He was the Faceless Man now, him without a name but many, many parts to play, and as he walked towards the secret door to the Eye’s Chamber, his hands reached for the sweets in his robes that he’d never unwrapped.
He waited for what seemed an hour before the panel, where he’d swiped the Chancellor’s blood a hundred times before. Staring, just staring, feeling the last drops of blood trail off his fingers that had expunged itself from beneath his skin during his convulsions, like suds dripping from a sponge. There were no blood stains on that small square of metal where the panel lay, as it drank the blood like soil. Will it work? he wondered. Have I done it? Will I save these people from the Eye?
The Faceless Man ran his bleeding right hand against the metal on the wall—his left hand braced tentatively over the wrist, as if he were afraid he’d pull away—watching the droplets leave his sensitive flesh. The blood seeped into the metal, and for several moments he waited. It was imperative to speak with the Eye and continue the lies of the failing Number, of the failing Chancellor, of the failing royals. Because we are freaks, aren’t we, Remy? Those speeches the Faceless Man had told his one-handed friend had been well-crafted and verbose, as he had told himself those same words a thousand times before. The royals should be ended so the citizens can live in peace. The royals must be gone so the false hope will die. They sounded better, they were better reasons to end the royals than the true reasons in his heart. Sometimes he believed them. And other times I remember you, Remy. For when the day came that the Eye could realize the royals could be ended, and the dead world would not heal for at least many lifetimes more, then all the freaks beneath the earth could die, and Remy with the blonde hair might know what the Faceless Man had done.
And you might love me after I die, he ended his bitter thought with a hollow smile, a bitter rectus of desperation.
The wall shuddered. Mechanisms woke within the black metal, and the path to the Eye’s Chamber was freed. The Faceless Man stared at the hidden passage before him, the rounding stairway only Chancellors had ever walked, and held his bleeding hand against his chest. It was open. He fell to his knees once more, staring at his blood-drenched hands before him, laughing noiselessly and without breath. I have done it, I have done it! Glee filled his lonely heart, love filled his soul and rejuvenated his body like the touch of—
The Faceless Man smiled widely, knowing he had saved Spes for a while longer. This suffering will repeat every time you must open the door, said the instinctive voice inside him. When you can no longer stand to replicate your blood, then you must reach the boy. The Miles who is not Miles.
But the Faceless Man was crying now as he crawled towards the door to his God. Nothing else mattered at this moment, for his lover had done him the greatest kindness he’d ever known. Thank you, halo of my heart. Thank you for the practice.