Courage

I looked at the Preston G18 pistol in the holster on my right side. Time had followed me, and unfortunately, it had outpaced me. Long ago, I decided that I would leave the game before I would lose my face. The race was too much for me, even though there must have been other ways out.
   The question was: am I prepared to go further than I like? Isn’t that what my life has been about all along? People pushing me to go where I didn’t want to go, be who I didn’t want to be, say what I didn’t want to say. All to keep up the dirt walls of my empire built out of mud. I had been so many people that I did not know who or what I wanted to be anymore.
I closed the door behind me as I entered the lobby. As if the metaphorical last door had been closed, I knew that my time had come. After I opened the office door, there would be no way back; I would have to pull the trigger. After everything they had dragged me into, one of us will be out of time. In this fragile moment, there was nothing but myself and the sound of my breath, accompanied by the ticking of my wristwatch.
   “So you finally decided to take matters into your own hands, Igor?” a female voice behind me said.
   I turned around, signing the stranger to be quiet. I did not want to lose the element of surprise. The female voice belonged to a black Dragon Halfling that stood just a little taller than me. She wore a dress that looked like a Halfling would wear on a wedding, but it was black instead of white. Furthermore, most of her face was covered by a veil.
   “Whuh, I didn’t know you guys came in black as well,” I commented, more to myself than to the dragoness.
   “Don’t worry about me ruining your plans. Look at your watch.”
   I did as the stranger instructed and noticed that it was no longer ticking.
   “So my watch stopped. Big deal.”
   “Not just your watch, time itself.”
   “Why would you-” I started, but she interrupted me.
   “Because I wanted to have a little chat with you. You don’t know who I am, do you?”
   “Not a clue. Neither did I expect to meet any Halflings in this building.”
   She grinned.
   “I am Valorah, the Archangel of the element you know as lightning. Additionally, I represent acts and decisions, including those that have fatal results.”
   “And I’m important enough for you to mess with time?”
   “Archangels are not bound by time, therefore all conversations with mortals are free of time’s influence as well. But enough of the technical gibberish, you’re not here for me, I’m here for you.”
   “Explain that, please?”
   “I know who you are, Igor, and I know what you’re about to do. You are going to walk through that door and you’ll draw your gun somewhere along the line. There’s a chance of three out of four that at least one person will not leave that office alive.”
   “Again, why do you even bother to talk to me? Don’t you have something important to do?”
   She closed in on me and spread her wings a little, just enough to impress me, but not enough to frighten me.
   “You know why you are here and you know who is in there. I’m sure that you are well aware of Denzel’s influence during the Upheaval and that he is angry about what happened. He wanted all Halflings to be eradicated during their revolution, but instead, they managed to convince even the king of the value of their cause.”
   “Do you also know what I’m going to do in that office?”
   “No, but that is partly because you haven’t decided yet,” she commented plainly, “and you could always kill yourself.”
   “That wouldn’t solve anything, would it?”
   “Maybe it would. You know that Denzel is not the only human guilty of multiple kinds of felonies against Halflings. Humans as well, now that I mention it.”
   “I’m aware of all this, Valorah. Still, I don’t get why you thought it was necessary to interfere.”
   “Every mortal has the power to be significant in the course of history. This is your moment, Igor. Will you end up in the chronicles as heroic, as defeated, or as a coward? It’s all in your hands now. I’m only here to make sure you’re aware of this, so you can only blame yourself if you manage to mess up.”
   I grimaced.
   “Thanks for the pep talk. You’re not judging me for taking matters in my own hands?”
   “I’m not the one that judges. You will be the one pulling the trigger, and if you won’t, that’ll be your own choice. Decide whatever you want, but decide whatever you want.”
   “Don’t worry, I will.”
   “Good…” the dragoness reassured, then faded away into thin air.

That day, my life ended. I knew that I could not live on like that anymore. I had to start over, but it would be worth it. With a firm motion, I opened the door to Denzel’s office. I walked in and shut the door behind me with my foot. Denzel sat at his nearly empty desk, reading a file he was probably going to sign, when he looked up at me.
   “Caldwell, what are you doing here?”
   “I’m here to settle something, Remington.”
   Denzel dropped the file on his desk.
   “What are you talking about?”
   “You know very well what I mean. I thought you were finally going to do things the right way. Everybody did. But just as-”
   “What is your problem?” Denzel indignantly interrupted me. “Did you really think I was going to let that Stoat Halfling free? That I would just hand her over to the resistance?”
   “You made me believe you would.”
   “Of course I wouldn’t!” he grumbled.
   “Then why did you tell me that you were going to release her? You played the hero, claiming you had saved her.”
   He leaned towards me.
   “Because I was going to sell her to the highest bidder. She was less ‘saved’ and more of a ‘saving’, actually. At the moment you asked me about it, the Halfling resistance had offered the highest bid.”
   “Let me guess, some politician outbid the resistance?”
   “Like I expected, yes. Even though I would have loved to see the Upheaval end differently, I doesn’t hurt to make some money from all the commotion, does it?”
   “Well it does, and you know why. I think you’re well aware of the fact that the resistance won’t take no for an answer. And it won’t be a guess to say that the Halfling community knows that her mutilated corpse has been found hanging from the Bronze Bridge.”
   “Suits her fine, the weasel. You say it like I’m responsible for her death.”
   “Not directly, but a racist like you wouldn’t bat an eye, would you?”
   “Nope,” he commented plainly.
   A short silence.
   “So what now, Caldwell?” Remington taunted.
   “You do understand that you’ll have to pay for what you did, don’t you? All those Halflings you killed… it can’t go unnoticed.”
   “I didn’t kill any Halflings. I merely supplied other people with the means to kill, that’s different. They could’ve taken their equipment somewhere else-”
   “Nonsense!” I interrupted him. “You know just as well as I do that such an argument doesn’t count. You paid for those firearms and you gave them to a group of people you selected to hunt down and kill as many Halflings as they could during the uproar of the Upheaval. You’re an accomplice to each and every death that hit squad has caused.”
   “Like you care. Your wife was killed by a Halfling.”
   “That’s right, but I put time and effort in getting over my grudge. It’s not like hating other Halflings would bring my wife back. You, on the other hand…”
   “You know nothing, Caldwell.”
   “Wrong. I know just enough to see that you’re going down. If I don’t do it, the Halfling resistance will find you soon enough and trust me, I don’t think they’ll give you any time to explain yourself.”
   “They won’t get to me, kid,” he replied calmly. “Do you really think I’ll stick around, waiting for them to track me down? They’ll kill me eventually anyway.”

The tone of his voice suggested a sense of defeat. Denzel sat back in his chair and tore open a small paper bag. He emptied it into a waiting glass of wine I had not noticed sooner. As I looked closer, the bag read the letters KCN.
   In the following seconds, time appeared to have slowed down. Denzel reached to grab his glass, while I reached for my gun.
   “Hold it, Remington. Don’t move,” I demanded, pointing my automatic pistol at his face.
   Instinctively, he froze.
   “Why the gun, Caldwell?”
   “If you drink that, you’ll die.”
   “I know, idiot. I just put the poison in it myself.”
   The letters had made sense to me just in time. KCN, the abbreviation for potassium cyanide. He wanted to peg out before the Halflings got to him, the bastard. I took the safety off my gun, switching it to burst mode.
   “You’re not going to drink that.”
   “Try to make me,” he scoffed. “If you shoot me, I’ll be dead as well. If you shoot my arm, I’ll have one more.”
   Denzel picked up the glass from his desk. Just as he moved to drink from it, I fired my gun. Three bullets flew through his office, shattered his glass and ended somewhere in the concrete wall behind him. Bewildered, Denzel looked at me while the spilled poisonous wine stained his shirt.
   “I told you,” I said, taking my cell phone from my pocket, “you’re not going to drink that.”
   “Why, Caldwell? Why would you care?”
   “Because I’m not like you. I have regrets, I show remorse. I’m even willing to accept any punishment for the crimes I’m responsible for. You, however… for your sake, I hope you’ll get the death penalty, but know that I’ll do whatever I can to make sure it’ll be life in prison.”
   “It won’t bring the weasel girl back, just like your wife.”
   I leapt forward and hit Denzel in the face with the butt end of my pistol.
   “Shut up about my wife, pathetic washout!”
   As Denzel grabbed his face with both hands, as if that would reduce the pain, I imperturbably dialed the number of the emergency hotline and asked them to put me through to the local police station.

   “This is Igor Caldwell. I am in the director’s office of the Remington Industries building. Denzel Remington is with me and I am awaiting his arrest. He is complicit in multiple murders on Halflings during the revolution of the Upheaval.”
   The operator confirmed that a squad would come to pick him up and I ended the conversation.
   “You know what’s so funny about this, Remington?” I asked.
   Denzel did not respond, still clinging his face, trying to stem his bleeding nose.
   “I initially wanted to shoot you in the head, but I went with the least expected option. We’ll both walk out of this office alive, but your life will be practically over as of today.”