Part Seventeen of the Sonata in Red series.
Part One: A Song of Glory
Part Two: A Choir of Intrigue
Part Three: Etude in the Sun
Part Four: A Requiem in the Dark
Part Five: Hymns of Terror
Part Six: Refrain from the Past
Part Seven: Refrain from the Past (pt. 2)
Part Eight: A Fugue in Three Parts
Part Nine: Rondo Alla Contrattempo
Part Ten: Interlude
Part Eleven: A Fool’s Masquerade
Part Twelve: A Reprised Duet
Part Thirteen: Dancing with the Devil
Part Fourteen: Adagio under Lantern’s Glow
Part Fifteen: Into Destiny
Part Sixteen: A Perfect Storm
“I’m back,” Layla’s bright voice beams through the house announcing her return to the farm. I’m lain out in bed, overcome with the ever-present pain in my bruised and broken body. I’d survived the trip over the fall, though barely. I had washed up on the shore of an irrigation canal that had diverted from the main lake and been rescued by a couple of farmhands.
Bones in my legs and ribs had been shattered by the fall, even with my skill I would have died without my preternaturally resilient body. For an ordinary human these injuries would take months to heal, and likely never return to their original state. Monster blood meant Lucas would be up and walking again in a couple days, by the Royal Moon with some luck. But even that might be too long a wait, if the aristocracy sought retribution they’d likely find him within the day and in this current state I stood no chance against even an ordinary unarmed human.
“Welcome back, I’m still where you left me,” I sing back through sharp pain of my broken ribs. I listen to the sound of my caring host approaching, I can smell something bitter in the air I don’t recognise.
She knocks politely before entering. The owner of the farm and his workers have been out in the fields all day hardly willing to spare the time it had taken for them to carry me inside. I’d been warmly tended to by the farmer’s daughter Layla, a young woman hardly more than a girl with a smile that radiates the kind of innocence one will never see in Night Town. That smile peers through the door as she it cracks open to check on me.
“Good afternoon, sleepyhead,” she teases, allowing the door to swing open as she leans against the door frame. Suddenly my body kicks into danger mode, behind her the outline of another shifts behind her. They had moved so quietly I hadn’t noticed them until now. Almost certainly an altered man of some description, most likely an agent of the aristocracy come to kill me or worse, “I’ve brought a friend of yours with me, he’d been looking for all morning, isn’t that wonderful?”
She enters the room and the figure moves into view of the doorway. Taking me by surprise, I realise I’d seen his face before. The devil man who had watched me at the tavern in Night Town. It was unlikely he was here on behalf of the aristocracy, the cartels tend to keep their business focused on Night Town. If he wasn’t here because of the Baronet, I couldn’t think why a cartel thug would be looking for me out in the agricultural districts, not to mention how he would even have known where to find me so quickly.
I watch him as he enters the room, thanking Layla for her help in finding me. Raising a scene now would only succeed at putting her in danger, so I sit silently and wait to see what happens. She lets us know she will be just outside in the yard and to call out if we need anything and leaves the devil man and I alone here. He closes the door behind her as she leaves, taking a chair and seating himself beside my bed. His skin is dark with severe lines accentuating his face making him seem more dangerous than his youth should be capable of. Some aspect of his stare makes me think of a tiger, and I watch him carefully as prey watches the predator.
“Nightingale,” he starts by using my shadow name, re-enforcing my fear at his purpose, “I am named Raktabīja, Demon of the Blood Mist. My masters have bid me to bring you back to Night Town.”
I am familiar with the Blood Mist, the cartel were the most largest in Night Town. Their name was fitting for their reputation of brutality. Their Devil Men were called Demons and faltered before neither death or killing.
I answer him with deference worthy of his reputation saying, “I am unable to walk, Raktabīja. More, I am likely hunted by the aristocracy. Going with you now would mean suicide for both of us.”
“I am aware of pursuers, my masters have known of your crime since before you committed it. They wish to make you an offer of employment. You must choose now to accept or decline their offer. An Angel is on his way here as we speak. With my help there is a chance you may survive, will you accept?”
I cannot believe the Demon’s words, regardless of my crime an Angel is far beyond anything that would make sense for their retribution. A baronet in the eyes of an angel is hardly more than a commoner. It’s impossible.
The Baronet’s son however I have seen in the company of one and Ava is of noble blood. Even so it was ludicrous. The Demon’s face is completely impassive, met with his inhuman gaze I believe him utterly. I feel a rush of terror, and nod silently. Whatever I have found myself in the centre of, I am debris swept up in the winds of a storm.
The moment my head dips, Raktabīja begins to shine with an internal glow of a dark star. Both blackened and brilliant, his aura to my aberrant senses is almost painful to look directly at. With preternatural alacrity that far surpasses my own capabilities I am hoisted from the bed across his shoulders like I am weightless.
Layla recoils in horror, collapsing to the ground and screaming as the Demon races past her from the house crossing the fields with impossible grace. I know the monster blood empowered forms we assume take a different appearance to the eyes of ordinary humans. I cannot imagine what she must have seen as we passed, but I pray it does not scar her. She has a kind heart.
The wind rakes my skin, across the fields behind us I can see soldiers covering the farms. Amongst them, a mere spec in the distance now, one of the figures begins to shine with divine radiance.
Raktabīja notices the explosion of oppressive pressure as easily as I do. Doubling his pace as he races towards the entrance to Night Town. The chase has begun in earnest, a mere shadow between an Angel and a Demon I can only tremble in helpless awe.