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  • Writer's pictureNick Badot

The Veins of Brutus


I have not felt the comfort of sleep since my third death. 

It’s been twenty, maybe twenty-five days since I last tasted the stain of the Sacrament pass my lips and seize my heart. Twenty-five days since anything bought me peace - honey-water, valerian root, melatonin, oxycodone, benzodiazepine, hot brandy scented with lemon…even meditation. All worthless. Insufficient. 

I offer a thousand prayers every night, but Brutus does not answer. 

This is not the insomnia I knew before, when the little shameful moments accrued over a lifetime decide to come marching in all at once and take my consciousness for their battleground. The thoughts that plague me now are different. Are they my thoughts or his? They flit by too fast to comprehend, nauseating flashes of colour on a reel that refuse to resolve into an image before the next frame arrives. But it’s more than just that. At times it feels like I sense the heaving of incomprehensible mechanisms within, the construct of thought unmasked to allow a glimpse at the primordial chaos of firing neurons. Have I seen something not meant for mortal eyes? Is this what is destroying me? 

I’m forgetting things…and remembering things that never happened. Mosquitoes the size of dinner plates smash into the windows of my apartment and leave putrid violet trails on the glass as their carcasses slide down. Those can’t be real. A purple mould pulsates in the corner where the wallpaper is peeling away. Through the layers of glass and insect residue, the sunlight filters in blue and the mould sprouts hands to catch it.

I turn on the television and I recognise the face on screen. It’s her, one of the Others. The one who calls herself Jupiter. She’s a senator and on the TV she’s giving a speech where she compares immigrants to parasites, while red rivulets gush from her empty eyes and soak her suit. The more impassioned she gets in her diatribe the more blood comes out, but she keeps talking as if she doesn’t notice. 

Click. 

Now Carthage - the one who first invited me to join the Sacrament - is on the screen. “You don’t want to disappoint God, do you?” he whispers to the camera. The ground under him fissures, torn apart by the tectonic claws of a buried Leviathan. He screams. The melanin drains out of his skin to reveal bruising. No, it’s not bruising. It’s…moving. Squirming under his skin. He is swallowed by the earth. 

Click. 

I don’t have to touch the remote this time, I just think and the channel changes. Master Carver appears on screen in his crimson robes. He wears his usual jester’s mask but the white porcelain doesn’t cover his lips, which stay motionless while he speaks. “You’re not supposed to know who the Others are,” he scolds, “they can’t help you anyway.” 

Am I being punished?” I reply without moving my lips either. 

“You know who to ask. You know where to go.” An explosion of static. Crimson tendrils reach out from the scream to grab me. I flee to the hallway and exit. 

He’s right. Another death will fix me. Fix all of this. 

Yes, just one more. 

I must descend the Veins of Brutus.

It is my first time making the journey alone, but I remember the way. Or, at least, my legs do. A manhole cover pushed aside, a path taken to a disused metro station. My body is a marionette dancing on strings, an automaton following its code. Am I the one doing these things? They are happening with or without me, but I can choose to be the one doing them. A hidden gate is found - no, I find the hidden gate - twenty metres down the tracks. There is a vertical decline that leads to another door, a grotesque thing made of uneven flesh that oozes an orange fluid that smells like battery acid. It is flanked by a pedestal. Here. I must make the offering. The skull is oddly warm when I take it from my backpack. Where did that come from? Usually Carver handles… Never mind. I place the thing down and watch the bone evaporate. The door groans like a wounded creature as it opens. 

Foul air assaults my lungs when I step in, fouler than I remember. The slime on the walls retreats from the light when I shine my torch on it. Something comes towards me from beyond the torchlight. Noises. Whispers. A voice - Master Carver’s. “Come, child of Brutus.” But Carver cannot be here. This is an echo - this is what he said during my first visit. The past leaks into the present over my shattered synapses. I am reliving my first visit. 

Click. 

As I descend down the tunnel, I feel like the walls are about to contract and swallow me. Pull me deep into this gargantuan gullet. Carver’s gentle whisper still beckons forward. Down towards the core. Closer to the explosions of a heartbeat that drown out the squelching of boots. I reach the room of the first ritual, both in the past and the present. There is another flesh-door, from which protrudes an obsidian bowl. To my right, Jupiter places her hand palm-down on the rim. Carver brings down a hatchet and a few of Jupiter’s fingers drop into the bowl. She screams. Now I am screaming. I drop the hatchet and wrap my bloodied hand in cloth. God, it hurts, but it will be better soon. The bowl glows sickly and emerald. The door dissolves in both whens. 

My brain screeches, my skull shakes. At first I think it’s bifurcating under the strain of two realities. As I close my eyes, I feel the thunder in my head - this comes from within. I need the Blood. Now. If my brain gives out before I reach the final chamber… 

I take a deep breath and gag on putrid air. Then I enter the core. But something is different - something is wrong. I stare down two sets of walls, but only one of them is moving. In one, the resounding thud of colossal atria and ventricle is silenced. No. I place a hand on the wall. To my left, Carthage does the same in the past. “Incredible. Every brick is a strand of living tissue. The circulatory system of a God.” 

It doesn’t feel alive now though. In the present, I walk through the corpse of my God. I am doomed, then. It is a calming thought, one that strips me of my panic, my tortured urgency. Still, I want answers, so I stroll to the final chamber. The door is open already. I cross the threshold.

Click. 

I am sucked into the past more fully. 

Carver makes the rest of us sit in a circle around the wound in the floor that bleeds darkness. “This goes straight to the centre. The purest blood, completely unfiltered.” Did his lips move? I can’t see them clearly. He fills our jugs from an old blue bucket, the chain tethered above and its other end trailing into the abyss. “Now drink. Complete the Sacrament,” he says. We all obey without hesitation. It tastes like petrol and gin, like the nectar of eden drenched in arsenic. It tastes of everything and nothing. Of death and suffering and salvation. 

Approximately two minutes later, we all die. 


This death isn’t peaceful. Muscles shrivel, tendons and ligaments snap, bones crack and break. Flesh melts off us like butter in a frying pan. We are conscious during most of it, since the nervous system takes a while to dissolve, and it’s the most horrifying pain any of us have ever experienced. At least, until thirty more seconds elapse and the resurrection begins. Tissue fuses and reforms. Whatever magic lies in the blood now courses through us, our liquid selves. What was destroyed takes shape again. The tissue becomes rigid, organs take shape. The nervous system comes back in a perfect, visceral torrent of blazing agony. A heart. A heartbeat. Lungs. Violent heaves as air comes into us once more. 

When the pain subsides, Jupiter looks at her newly grown finger in astonishment. Carthage says that his shortsightedness is cured. But none of us need these physical changes as proof to know that we have come back changed. Each sense is stronger than before, everything is so fresh. We are more alive than we have ever been. 

With the Blood of Brutus in my veins, I can do anything

The euphoria fades and the present returns. Past is discarded. 

I’m in the chamber, in my usual place. To my right and left are Jupiter and Carthage, their masks on the ground before them. Both of them are dead, Carthage has been stabbed hundreds of times and Jupiter has red ruins for eyes. They gesture at me accusingly. Across from me is a corpse missing its head. Carver. The skull in my bag... But I won’t think about that now.

There is a jug beside my spot. How did I miss it before? I drink deeply. Petrol and gin, cinnamon and rust. I sit and wait for death to take me. But my stomach curdles. Something is wrong with the blood. It is…stagnant. Harvested from a lifeless heart. 

“Well God-fucking-dammit,” I say to the dead. My words hang in the air like a veil. Before I can decide what to do next, the headless Carver sits up. He pulls a skull out from beneath his robes and attaches it to a protruding vertebra. His skull. The one I offered at the door. “I am pleased at your return, though I regret the circumstances,” he says. It is not Carver’s voice. It is the baritone of bumblebees drowning in honey. It is the echo of an organ in a cathedral. The voice of a God. 

“What…what happened to me?” I say. It’s the best question I can think of. 

“Alas, little of you remains. It is rare for me to say this to a mortal, but in this case it is warranted… I am sorry.” 

Brutus, what do you mean? I need your help. I–” 

“There are many who need my help, and few who receive it. Alas, I am beyond helping, or being helped.” 

“I know. You’re dead,” I say. “But then how are we speaking?” 

“My essence is contained in blood, and you have just drunk the last of it.” Even without tissues or muscles to form a facial expression, the skull looks remorseful. “Every time my children drink my blood, I speak to them. And I beg that they stop and leave me in peace. I tell them that I am dying, that I need to recover. Not even a God can survive such bloodletting. But something in the resurrection erases the memories of our talks, and you return, as greedy as before for the product of my veins.” 

“Is that why you killed Carver and the others?” 

“No, it’s why you killed Carver and the others.” 

“What?! I” 

“While you were under the fugue of my blood, I tried to implant something of myself into the circuitry of your brain. A subconscious directive that would survive the violence of resurrection. I had attempted it before, but it never worked. Until I tried it with you.”

Memories returned suddenly. Suffocating, poisoning, burning. Cutting a bloody swath across Paris. So much blood. And beneath it all an alien buzzing in my head. Instructions for the Champion of Brutus. 

“I…remember now. It was too late to save you, but not to avenge you.” 

“Indeed. You were my Archangel Michael.” 

“And that’s why I’ve been going insane. There is something of you in my head. Something beyond what a mortal mind can sustain.” 

Brutus nodded. “You are the last Child of Brutus. And soon there will be none. Once the blood wears off, I will cease to exist. And so will you.” 

“But how…what happens after?” 

“Even I cannot say, Champion. I’m new to this too. But for you I have a final gift. Listen…”

Click. 

“I don’t hear anything.” 

“Exactly.” 

Understanding washes over me. The thudding in my brain has stopped. 

Peace. No more blood and whiskey, no more suffering and salvation. Just peace. “Thank you, Brutus.” Thank you, I say, not bothering to wipe tears from my cheek. “I’ll be ready to go soon. I want to enjoy this a little bit longer.” 

“Believe me, Champion, I’m in no rush.” A single red tear trickles down Brutus’ cheekbone. I sit for a while, and enjoy the silence while my God prays beside me.


 


Nick Badot is an Irish/Belgian author, poet, and reformed computer scientist currently living in Montenegro. He has a predilection towards speculative fiction, hopeless romanticism, gothic horror and history, and has published poetry in the Provenance Journal and the Rabble Review. He is also writing a gothic horror novel.

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