THE TRAGEDY OF VAUN GREYLOCK - CHAPTER TWO
Darkness often falls in more than one way. Like the setting of the sun upon the cold, dark earth, so too may darkness settle upon the soul of a man.
Philosophers have puzzled for eons to determine what it is that makes a righteous man good. But good philosophers have focused more intently on what makes a wicked man so bad.
I have looked into the empty eyes of humans so twisted that it made me shudder. Like looking into voids devoid of all goodness. Like looking into the eyes of the devil himself.
It often takes a monster to kill a devil, and sometimes you must lose yourself to save another.
Most aren't willing enough to make such a sacrifice. Maybe that's what makes them good people.
But I would sell my soul to the devil himself if it meant getting the chance to kill him.
So maybe that's what makes me a good person.
And tonight I plan to do just that. Tonight is the night we go after Khathul, leader of the Umra' Alharb. Arabic for Warlords. The devils responsible for this war. The order of men we've been tracking for the five years I've been a part of GHOST.
Owners of the largest human trafficking operation in the world. Their profit margins make the world's richest man look like a child who's just received their first weekly allowance. Off-the-books, they control the world.
This war started because of their say so. And it presses on because they want it to. Every day we remain locked in arms is a day they pocket millions.
They are the gods of war. Ares himself would be put to shame to stand among these men. They profit off the gun I carry. They manufacture the drones we fly. They have sewn the seems of thread that make up my clothing. Umra' Alharb is everywhere. Their organization spans internationaly. Their hands muddle in the structure of every prospering economy.
They control us all. And better yet, they do it without our noticing. They are the propaganda we see in the media. They are the wind's suggestive whispering in our world leaders' ears. They are the addiction coursing through a heroin addict's veins.
To say they are arm dealers is not enough. To describe them as the manipulators of the pharmaceutical industry that controls the majority of the human race is not enough. These men are more important than the gold that backs our currencies. They are the facilitators of the behind the screen algorithms that shape the thoughts we think.
To kill the leader of the Warlords is to do more than collapse the global economy. Over a third of the world's population is on their medications. Anti-anxiety, anti-depression, mood stabalizers. To kill the leaders of the Warlords is to cause mass delirium.
What do you get when you mix economic collapse with a third of humanity going into drug withdrawls?
We will find out after tonight.
It hasn't taken us five years to find Khathul. It's taken five years to find Khathul without him finding us.
GHOST was created off-the-books. We don't technically exist. It had to be that way, to prevent Umra' Alharb from finding us.
Each of us is dead. Or at least dead to the public eye. It was a requirement upon joining, one I complied with happily. My faked death severed all ties between me and Maev. My death was necessary so my daughter could live. When I'm not deployed I live with restrictions. Burner phones only. No public excursions without a hat and glasses. Cash transactions only. Fade into the seems of society without being noticed.
Tracking down Khathul seemed futile a short year ago. Every lead we got had been nothing but a dead end. We may be GHOST, but Khathul is a ghoul. Sheridan's GIS mapping did little to form coherent links between Umra' Alharb couriers and official leadership. Too many degrees of separation between their leadership and their foot soldiers.
It took many hours of useless torturing to come to that conclusion. Capture a trafficker and apply pressure until their mind breaks open. That's how we started this search. Over and over again until we gave up. The scum who ran day to day operations knew nothing. They were just vile men charged with moving children and women across borders. But for investigative purposes, they held little relevant information regarding their superiors' location.
We exhausted all avenues of investigation. Drones kept tabs on coyotes and low-level drug runners for us. We raided whorehouses weekly, infiltrating black market sex rings. Our efforts have saved the lives of hundreds of women and children since touching down in Libya, but it was all so reactive.
A professor once told me the story of two monks who went to a river daily to wash their robes. One day in the midst of their washing, they saw with horror a live baby floating down the river in a swaddled piece of driftwood. Filled with shock and dismay they rushed to retrieve the child from the rapid waters.
They dried the child and dressed it in warm clothes, and by the time the initial adrenaline of the situation began to die down, another infant came along, floating down the river, same as the first. The monks were flabbergasted at the sight of it all, but this time they sprung into action even quicker. They saved the second child.
But this time they had only just made it back to the bank of the river when a third child came, floating down the river the same as the first two.
And then a fourth child. And a fifth. And before the monks could register what was happening there were dozens of children floating in the water towards them. They had to react fast, so they instantly began digging a dam in the middle of the river. They recruited the help of the entire monastery to come fast and lend all hands.
Before they knew it, after much exertion and back-breaking labor, they had built an effective enough damn to catch the children so they could be retrieved faster and safer.
The children kept coming, and the monks continued saving them one by one, plucking children from the rapids as fast as they possibly could.
And as they went on about their business saving children from the dangerous waters, an old veteran came along, drawn to the sound of the monks shouting in frantic communication. After taking in the scene of it all and watching long enough to understand the situation of things, the onlooker spoke, drawing the attention of all monks present.
"You saintly fools," he began, his griseled voice filled with disgust. "You've spent all this time and energy reacting to the situation that you've built a dam to catch the children. Why don't some of you come along with me? I say we go upstream and stop whoever it is who throws innocent children into the waters."
Me and my team had been the monks, breaking into brothels and freeing enslaved women and children on a weekly basis while trying to find leads that will clue us in on something. We knew we needed to walk upstream but were incapable of doing so. The footpath upstream for us has been covered by underbrush and hookbriars.
We have communicated with locals, people smart enough to know that if they speak on the existence of the Warlords then their entire village will be slaughtered. More dead ends.
There was a point in our search where it seemed it would have been easier to prove the existence of God than to discover the location of Khathul. That is, until I saw the dogs.
I can't believe it had taken me years to see it.
There had been guard dogs at nearly every black market operation we infiltrated. But not just any dogs. Rottweilers. Every time, rottweilers. I ran back through the drone and body cam footage. Spent several long hours obsessing over it, all to confirm my suspicion.
Umra' Alharb was using rottweilers as their alarm dogs. I'd even killed one of them myself when it had charged me. Looking back on it, I don't know how I could have been oblivious for so long.
Grenidad was the mission where it dawned on me. Tracking down the sex rings wasn't the key to solving this. Torturing human traffickers wouldn't give us answers. No, the rottweilers were the key to this puzzle.
These weren't the wild, savage dogs common to the villages of Northern Africa. These things were purebred; genetics coming from champion bloodlines. I should know, I grew up with them as a child. And so I of all people knew how to spot the difference between a German Rottweiler and one with muddied bloodlines. These things at the brothels had big, blocky heads. Built stout like a brick shithouse.
These dogs were being bred somewhere, so that's when I set out to find the breeder.
Find the breeder, find the path upstream.
Surely whoever was breeding these dogs had to know where to send them. And to know that means they would have to have connections with higher members of Umra' Alharb who have the answers to my questions.
Sure enough, it didn't take long to find the breeding compound. We went in covertly. Snuck in like a thief in the night. Like Jesus upon his second coming. No lives taken. No shots fired. No dogs alarmed. We were a simple shadow passing over the place in the dead of night. And thanks to the clandestine operation, we found exactly what we were looking for.
The breeder's abode supplied for us our first worthwhile clue in five years. The contact information for some of Umra' Alharb's highest ranking members.
And so we've spent the better part of a year tracking these men down and interrogating them. A whole year's work culminated for one night. Tonight.
My feet meet the ground as my parachute slowly sinks to the ground behind me, faintly reminiscent of some demented superhero's cape swaying in the dark glow of twilight. Darkness has already fallen on the face of the earth, but now it falls another place altogether. Inside me.
I stand on the outskirts of Khathul's hidden compound with nine of the world's best soldiers around me. We have done unspeakable things to find this man. This war has breached our innermost being, forcing us to defy every ethical guideline we've ever known.
We have become a necessary evil, because Khathul is not a man who can be killed by any mortal man. It sometimes requires a monster to kill a devil. And I feel the terrible weight of a storm brewing inside me as the darkness falls over the face of my heart.
About the author
I am a 22-year-old recent graduate from Mars Hill University. I have a double major in Criminal Justice and Religion & Philosophy. I also played collegiate lacrosse! In my free time you can find me writing fiction and hiking with my dog.