Lost

I am searching for something. I can’t remember what it is exactly other than that it’s something I’ve lost. Perhaps you might help me find it. You see I need it for something important, though I’m not sure exactly what.

I wonder, memory being like it is, if I ever actually had it. I feel I must have once, because I have memories of times that seem like I had it. Strange that I can’t remember where or how I lost it.

I think I had it very early in life, but the harder I try to remember the less I seem to conjure up. I’ve seen pictures that looked like I had it, but it might be that it’s different when you’re that age. Most thing’s tend to be.

When I was older I remember times I had it, but other memories seem like I didn’t. I’ve always been a forgetful sort, so maybe having lost it now isn’t quite that strange. There were a few times I had it, but more times I think I didn’t. I wish I coud be more helpful, but it’s all just so damn vague.

I remember I had it when I met my girlfriend, or maybe she gave it to me. Wouldn’t that just make it even worse? You probably think pretty poorly of me by now, I expect. I suppose it’s possible that I didn’t lose it, but instead someone stole or broke it. Now I think of it, my girlfriend’s broke. It was partly my fault it did, but I think it’s been fixed again.

I had it back then. I think. And I know I had it for a while. People would tell me nice things about it, and I was proud of it. It wasn’t the best, but it was mine. But somewhere along the line it changed, or maybe I did. My memories of it were different, at least. I can’t, for the life of me, remember why. I didn’t keep it with me as often, or it just got old and worn down, or I’m just not remembering things right. It’s so frustrating, like trying to recognise someone through heavy fog. One day I had it, one day it was different, and then it was gone or broken.

Something must have gone wrong, I recall a lot of people stopped having theirs around then. Could have been an issue with the manufacturers, not that I know who made them. That’d at least make it easier to get a new one if mine is gone for good. That’s saying nothing about the cost however. They say money won’t buy you happiness, but I’ll be damned if not having to think about money wouldn’t make me happier. Same’s probably true for you, I suspect.

You know, maybe I do still have it lying around somewhere. Talking it through with you, I think it did break for a while. But I think I remember having it again since then, different somehow but there. Perhaps it’s laying in draw somewhere filled with old hand-me-down and used phone cases. Something about that rings a bell. Yes, I think I’ll look again.

I hope I can find it, it’s going to be important soon. I’m sorry my description hasn’t been too clear or helpful, but you’ve helped just by listening it seems no-one else has the time to, and if you’ve any ideas that’s mighty fine.


A short, relatively pointless bit of writing. Been too sick and unhappy to want to want to continue the main story this past week. I’m not sure if anyone reads these, but if you do, thank you. I hope you found some enjoyment in my writing and Blood and Lies / Vicissitudes in the Dark Woods will be continuing, I promise.

– Zairron

Deep Woods and Dark Water

The second instalment of the ‘Short Scary Story – Halloween Horror Challenge’. Almost didn’t get this one done in time, been struggling to write these past few days. The experience pushing through the struggle is valuable however.

This story is about a primordial fear in a modern mind. The analysis of that fear from the victim, and the possibility of the truth being beyond what we consider to be possible in modern nights.

If you enjoy horror you can follow this challenge here.

Hope you enjoy it,
– Zairron


The burnt orange horizon of the tree line holds the romantic autumn spirit on its chilly late afternoon breeze. With my beautiful golden boy Captain by my side, I stroll happily through the park following the path through the woods. With the sun still in the sky the moon has risen to peek through the haunting glow of sunset. As the transition of day to night begins in earnest, the chorus of birds cries loud and bats spiral upwards like shadows across the moon. I’ve always loved the way that the colours of the evening, even more when framed with the vibrancy of autumn.
Captain bounds along beside me off the path, sniffing at leaves and trees, chasing squirrels and keeping an eye on every little thing while never losing sight of me. Runners pass me in both direction, their numbers increasing with the cool air before light fades. So many gorgeous sights and sounds accompany the season.
Wrapping my scarf tightly around my neck and face I bury my hands deeply into my pockets to keep away the cold. The fading light lets me know its time to leave. Calling out to Captain as he is investigating something at the edge of where I can see, he looks back at me and barks before continuing sniffing.
Frowning, I shout for him to come again being met with him determinedly ignoring my call. Vocalising my annoyance, I step off the path to fetch him. The moment he notices me approaching he bounds off deeper into the woods, stopping every few meters to look back to be sure I’m following. My first thought is just to leave and trust him to follow, but this strange behaviour has me curious for what he wants to show me so I follow.

Eventually he comes to a halt by a lake I’d never known was here. In fact by the undisturbed appearance, I’d even say that no-one knew it was here. Captain was sniffing curiously at the water’s edge, running up and down anxiously.
Moving up beside him I rest a calming palm on his back, he pushes against my legs without turning away from the still water. Something about the area makes me feel nervous and I keep a few feet from the edge as I look in. The sun has set almost completely now and only light from the moon peering through the branches casting dancing shadows on the water that undulate and writhe entrancingly.
My heart races in my chest as the hypnotising shadows dance on the unmoving surface of the lake, forming distantly familiar shapes. Long forgotten memories stir within me, their details still beyond recognition but the feelings of terror, sorrow and helpless anger resonate within me making me feel smaller than I had felt since being a child.
Captain whimpers. Pushing himself harder against my legs, his enthusiasm for exploration seemingly spent but now I can’t bring myself to look away despite his whines making me realise the complete isolation and silence of the area.

The shadows in the lake begin to grow in depth, the reflections of light vanishing under the true shadow of something large and physical rising up from beneath the surface. Captain barks loudly, and shoves me with his full weight causing me to stumble and shaking me from the paralysis I’d been trapped in.
A ripple forms on the surface of the unnaturally still lake. The simple sight I know without a shadow of a doubt the deadliest thing I had ever witnessed. My body ignited, flooded with adrenaline driving me as Captain and I run. Not daring to look back for even a second as the sound of something breaking the surface of the water behind us breaks the silence.
In the treacherous darkness I can hardly see the trees, without Captain faithfully guiding me I would have surely fallen and injured myself in our flight from the woods. The illumination of the path heartens me to run faster, bringing myself to the safety of the late evening joggers who guide me gibbering from the woods.

The police are called and they question me, thinking I had been assaulted or worse. In the company of other people, and explaining the experience out loud I’m forced to realise the silliness of my reaction. The officers offer me a lift home, no doubt thinking I was on drugs or something.
I decline, letting them instead walk me to the parking lot where I’m parked. The whole time the strange memory of the experience already like a distant half forgotten dream. As I pull out of the park with Captain in the back seat, I make it half way home before my hands start shaking and I’m forced to pull to the side of the road and sob uncontrollably.

I can’t explain what it was we found in that lake in the woods. I’ve spoken to a psychologist and she suggested it may have been a repressed memory of childhood trauma. I hope that is the case, and mostly I’ve managed to convince myself that that actually was the case. I haven’t gone back to the park since, and whenever Captain has strange moments I am brought back to that day and feel like whatever the creature beneath the surface has found us.
The world is a deep and ancient place. Legends of dark things in the deep places of the woods and under the water are some of the oldest in human history. I’m not saying I believe in those stories, but simply that I understand the feeling our ancestors must have known so much more intimately before we tamed the world with technology and numbers.

Beyond the Baepu Mountains

Today’s story is a short story inspired by works of found footage horror films and mysterious depressing horrors settings like in Attack on Titan.  ‘Short Scary Story – Halloween Horror Challenge’ where I’ll be uploading an original horror story every day.

If you enjoy horror stories you can find more of mine here.

Hope you enjoy it,
– Zairron


The following is from the Diary of Lieutenant Colonel Luna Green, discovered abandoned along the trade road by the First Efwir Expeditionary Force.

***

My name is Luna Green, I’m the leading medical officer in charge of the investigative expedition into Efwir. Three months ago merchants travelling East along the established trade routes reported that after crossing the Baepu Mountains, there was no sign of any human settlement in the area. The merchants who travelled the furthest in Efwir claim that the first three settlements one encounters were entirely empty, with the structures entirely untouched by any sign of violence or indication for the desertion.
War with Efwir has been a constant fixture in our nations history, which is why it took so long for action to be taken. In the end it was the independent authority of The Most Honourable Marchioness Penelope that authorised the  specialist unit of surveyors and investigators under my command to be dispatched, along with an escort of Cavalry Scout’s under the command of Lieutenant Victoria Lewis to cross the border. Together we were tasked with investigating the situation beyond our borders and if possible determine it’s cause. The current treaty with Efwir prohibited military actions by either nation beyond their borders for any purpose. As a precaution we as well as our escort were lightly armed and armoured to favour mobility over combat strength. Our mission was officially disavowed in the case of capture. The moment we crossed the border we were on our own.

Today marks the beginning of the second day since we entered Efwir. We had moved swiftly crossing the mountain pass and descending into the valley. Just as the merchants had claimed there were no patrols guarding the border and the first town we encountered on our way was completely devoid of life. We stopped overnight in the town, my people quickly determined from decaying organic matter and the state of upkeep about the town that there had been no human presence here for anywhere from the three months reported by merchants to a year. There was, however, no evidence to support any theories as to the cause of the state. Whether due to the passage of time or the cause of desertion also remained a mystery.
The mood among the men is tense. There had been some debate as to whether we should have remained in town over the night, Lt. Lewis had convinced me of the benefits of remaining in case of signs overnight. Many of the troops were superstitious about sleeping in the homes of vanished people, a camp was pitched at the edge of the town for those who preferred to avoid the homes, mostly utilised by our escort as my soldiers are more scientific minded. The night passed without incident or change. There was some superstitious talk among the troops, but held no basis in reality.
This morning our objective is the second village along the trade road, two hours ride to the north of here. I expect, from the merchant reports, that we shall not discover any new evidence until we pass deeper into Efwir. The first major settlement is a full days ride along the trade road when taken without distraction, we have planned to make it there in three more days, leaving time for stealth and to properly investigate the settlements along the way.

***

Yesterday we arrived in the second settlement in Efwir. A smaller village than the town we investigated yesterday, all evidence has remained consistent with what was found before. The only piece of new information we found was along the road between the first two settlements one of the members of our escort reported spotting someone moving in the wood to the south.
A squad was sent on foot to investigate and retrieve the survivor, a young woman of roughly mid adolescence. She has been assigned to Captain Hannah Clarke to monitor. Other than being slight malnourished she seems in relatively healthy condition. So far she has remained unresponsive, seemingly traumatised by some experience. She responded to the sight of the village with heightened anxiety, necessitating a sedative to prevent injury before we could bring her within. Cpt. Clarke is confident that she will recover from her trauma soon and be able to share what happened here.
Again we will be remaining overnight within the village and making for the settlement to the east in the morning. Lt. Lewis has expressed growing sense of unease among the soldiers, not a cause for concern but worth noting. Though it wounds my scientific pride, I am forced to admit that I am beginning to share the feeling. Since crossing the border the silence that has accompanied us is unnatural.

***

Cpt. Clarke is dead. During the night we suffered significant casualties. Lt. Lewis was the first to discover Clarke and the survivor missing. During the search fully half of the soldiers sent to search for them failed to return, those who did reported no sign of anything save for a sense of being watched.
I am loath to end our investigation so prematurely, but I cannot in good conscience ask the people under my command to continue in the face of this unknown and threat. We remained in the village for the remainder of the night with watch doubled, no further casualties were taken during the night.
We have left to return home the moment the sun rose. I am writing this as we approach the first town we encountered in Efwir. I have deferred command to Lt. Lewis for her superior combat experience. In case we do not make it back, I record my findings here with the hope that my diary is found by future expeditions.

Some unknown calamity has befallen Efwir. As a result the vast majority of life has vanished. Not only human life, but wildlife as well. The unnatural silence previously reported I have realised is due to the fact we have not heard a single living creature since entering Efwir. The only exception the young girl we discovered in the wood. The only recommendation I can offer is that under no circumstances should survivors from Efwir be allowed to cross the border.
And may the Gods protect us.

What truly is Yogurt?

My inclination is always to write about a world where something is wrong. A story where the conflict is resolving a problem. Lately I’ve been writing things that aren’t my first instinct. In that vein, here is a nice little hopeful hopeful science fiction piece about a human’s friendship with an alien.

If you enjoyed it, you can find more of my Science Fiction stories here

Hope you enjoy it,
– Zairron


“Tell me more about yogurt.”

I sigh, whenever Ryan started asking questions it took forever to satisfy him, “It’s just a type of food, Ry.”

“Well obviously,” he answers. Ryan isn’t his actual name, but the squid (once again not their species’ real name) don’t seem to use names in the same way we do so I gave him the name Ryan and he seems to like it. We work together, though I can never quite wrap my head around what it is that he does. I’ve chosen to think of him like a rich dilettante with an unhealthy interest in humans and human culture. Lately he’s been big into what kinds of food we eat.
I’m a little short with the guy but I’m supposed to be taking apart and salvaging what reusable parts I can find in this broken-ass air filtration system. It’s a one person job but Ryan chose to accompany for, as far as I can tell, the sole purpose of annoying me while I work. “But more specifically? And also generally I suppose. Is it a sauce? Is it a broth? A drink? What is it made from? Who invented it, and why?”

“I don’t know Ry,” I grunt, ripping the useless wiring from the system. This shit was completely torched, I really have to marvel at the special kind of stupid it takes to so utterly destroy tech this well made. Tossing the wiring in a pile for later, his presence is just too much and I’m forced to stop and focus on him before I’ll be able to get anything done. That stare is just so unnerving.
He’s a good guy but I don’t think its races that the squid always give me this pervasive sense of revulsion deep in my guts. He looks like some kind of disgusting reptilian octopus-centaur monster for crying out loud.
I’ve been with him for long enough to somewhat read his emotional state for what little comfort that gives me. It’s apparent he’s feeling pretty relaxed around me. He’s lent back on his haunches, his back legs acting like a recliner chair. His huge muscular tentacles are swept languidly back across his body leaving his head completely uncovered. The vertical slit pupils of his eyes were wide and calm, somehow they were what unnerved me the most about their appearance. The way their eyes always made me feel like prey.
“It’s just a food. I mean, some people eat it as a dessert, some eat it for breakfast, some use it as a flavouring thing not entirely unlike a sauce I suppose. It’s part of a lot of things, but it’s not an ingredient like flour.”

“Interesting, I am still curious about flour now that you mention it,” he begins to settle into a rhythm and I know I have to stop him now or I’ll never get any work done.

“Hold up, Ry. I’ve got work I need to do, and I can’t concentrate with you talking to me, how about I meet up with you later and I can answer any questions you have about yogurt or flour.”

His pupils contract slightly, I’m not sure exactly what that means. If it’s a sign of annoyance at being dismissed or if he’s just scrutinising me, maybe he just had gas. I rest a hand on my hip and stare him down for the moment, no doubt the gesture is as foreign to him as his to me. He makes a disturbing coughing noise I think is his attempt at imitating laughter and gently touches the floor in front of me with one of his tentacles, a common gesture conveying something like an apology among his people. He then leaves me to my work in peace.
As I return to the mindless work of stripping the filtration unit down, I let my mind wander with thoughts of Ryan and the squid. They are the first form of intelligent life we’ve encountered since we left the the Solar System and for a species of pure predators they seem pretty chill. First contact went way smoother than anyone expected, it was the culture shock that followed that was really the hard part. They’re hyper-competitive, but weirdly directionless as a species. When humanity took to the stars we had very clear goals of colonising other worlds for expansion and economic purposes, the squid were simply curious according to their telling. Largely humanity and squid have kept to themselves, our leaders negotiated friendly terms after a lot of struggle to understand one another. Ryan is a bit of a weirdo, curious even for a squid he’s the first of his species I’ve ever heard of being employed by a human corporation. He’s a bit famous because of it actually. For whatever reason, he seems to have decided we’re best friends. Maybe the squid are like cats and they only ever want to sit on the lap of the one person in the room who’s afraid of them. Whatever the reason, he terrifies me, but I’m getting used to him.

Completely salvaging the filter takes a way more hours than skill, but eventually I’m finished. I meet up with Ryan in the cafeteria after work, it’s both of our favourite place to hang out together on the ship. For me because there’s a lot of other humans around I feel a lot safer and whenever a doe-eyed kid wants to meet his first alien they give me a little break from his relentless questions. And for Ryan, the cultural experience of a human’s meals is like when I would go to theme parks as a little girl.
Whenever I catch a glimpse of the speed and power his tentacles can exert I’m grateful again that the squid were friendly. My grandma was remembers when we first encountered them, the fear that came with first spotting them and the uncertainty while we waited for the experts to figure out how to communicate. When I think about how vast space is, I’m kinda glad to have a friend as scary as Ryan.

 

The Age of Magic

A nice happy story after my last one. A conceptual imagining of a world like our own where magic exists, but there is room for the same technological advances we had (albeit in an entirely different fashion to reality.)

If you like this story you can find more fantasy stuff here

Hope you enjoy it,
– Zairron


“How can you tell when it’s working?” the student’s question for the the master showing his ability to sense the limitations of the ability.

“You can’t,” his master replies with his dry disinterested drone, “without an observer the effects are entirely unknowable. Magic is a risk, when you cast the spell you roll the dice.”

Julian internalises his reaction to the answer, knowing that Master Jaxon would have no interest in further discussing something he considered decided. He returns to the concentration exercises set by his master while he privately considers  the shortcomings.
Seeking Master Jaxon’s tutelage had been a risk. In the past magic had been the most influential factor in world politics, the nobility sponsored at least one practitioner for appearances sake at the least. Users were treated with suspicion by the ordinary people, for the chaotic nature of magic could cause as much harm as good sometimes even in line with the intentions of the wielder. With the mystery that surrounded their powers their presence at the top of society was simply accepted. It was this privilege that Julian had sought, exchanging ordinary life for power. However change advances steadily in all things, technological advancements reduced the reliance for magic in daily life. Innovations in agricultural techniques and technology allowed the dense populations of cities to be sustained without the aid of witches’ weather magic. The scholastic monopoly of the church and magical lineages had been broken by private institutes that collected and distributed knowledge as their business. Even the very nature of the home had changed with the advent of roads and clean flowing water. While the raw power of magic in warfare and its miraculous capabilities when focused on a specific skill remained far beyond the reach of mundane people, the idea that the age of magic was coming to an end was growing in prominence.
The shortcomings of this spell further fuelled Julian’s concerns. He was learning how to apply the principle of magic as an change in natural energy to rendering a subject effectively invisible. By injecting magical energy into a system he could twist the motion of light to shift around a location. However two significant flaws limited the application of the principle. First when the vortex was created, if centred on the user they would be plunged into darkness. Since the light is prevented from touching him, his eyes are prevented from receiving any information from the world around them. Second if the vortex was imperfectly crafted, while still blinding him instead of being untouched by light the subject would simply appear as a chaotic knot in space. Once the spell was cast, the only way to tell if it was successful was to look at it. The intricacy and complexity involved in perfectly altering the passage of light to seamlessly replicate a straight line while curving was frustrating to Julian, to say the least.
After turning the visual information of the pebble in his hand into a headache inducing contortion for the umpteenth time, his frustration at last overwhelms his ability to focus. Failing to centre his breathing, the unexplainable sensation of grasping the power eluding him completely, he hurls the stone at the floor in anger receiving absolutely not reaction from his bored looking master.

“This is bullshit,” regretting the outburst as soon as it is voiced. Master Jaxon already leaving by the time the sentence is completed. Julian grits his teeth, cursing his metal weakness. His lessons ended the moment he removed himself from them, was Jaxon’s explanation. There would be no contact with his Master until the following day, regardless of whether he can regain his focus.
With most of the afternoon still available to him, Julian retrieved his pack from the base of the tree where he’d left it. Might as well find something useful to do with himself, trying to practice in this state would be simply a waste of time and energy. From the pack he pulled his coin purse; two gold medallions, twelve silver coins and a hand full of copper flakes to last the month. Not a sum to be sniffed at, but still an amount that would require careful consideration if it was to last comfortably. The biggest obstacle to using magic was stress, that’s why the greatest users were often seen as eccentric at best or more commonly dangerously unstable. Without an iron sense of purpose couple with relaxed indifference magic could be either unreachable or unstable. A user of his level was simply incapable of reaching for the power, a user with a more intrinsic sense of the power could still call it but without control. Those users were where the reputation for danger came from for magic.
Shouldering his pack, Julian made his way back along the path towards the city. It was a nice day, he should appreciate the mixed blessing his free time represented. He couldn’t properly afford to go drinking and besides it was too early in the afternoon. He didn’t have many friends in the city either, having come here entirely for an apprenticeship with a Master. There was little to do for fun in the city when you didn’t know anyone. Watching street performers or gambling held very little appeal to him. A meal enjoyed in the park the choice he settles on.

Watching the clouds roll by, Julian marvels at how differently the world seemed from when he was a boy. The stench of the city was almost unnoticeable, sanitation and hygiene for his grand-parents would have been like a fairy tale. Even in his short lifetime the change was noticeable. Perhaps this was the end of the age of magic, and if it was, maybe that wouldn’t be such a bad thing. With the serenity of that realisation he lifts a new stone in his hand, reaching out and gripping the power he casts it like a net over the stone and smiles as it seemingly vanishes from sight.
Magic would always have a place in the world. If the world didn’t need the power to find serenity, that doesn’t seem so bad.

 

The Blood of the Father

The Sonata in Red series will be on a short hiatus. It’s reached a nice cliff-hanger in my opinion to let step aside while I try out some different short stories. For practice and fun.
This is a short mystery set in a science fiction dystopia inspired by the writing prompt:

“When I went to receive the results of my blood test, they told me they were classified”

You can find more of my science fiction attempts here: Science Fiction
-Zairron


“Good morning, I’m here to check my results.”

“Of course sir, what name were they under?”

“Gabriel Robinson.”

“One moment, sir.”

Today was the day the wait would finally be over. The woman behind the counter turned to search the monitor for my future. I glanced back at the crowded processing centre behind me. They promised that automating the Process would mean less than .01% of applicants would ever see the inside of one of these centres, meanwhile in reality the line stretched back through the door into the hall of the complex. I’d waited for hours before getting through to see someone.

“Do you have your application number?”

I handed her my form with a smile. For days process centres all across the planet had been filled with all manners of people seeking clarification. This level of bureaucracy was hardly uncommon unfortunately. Khthon was an emigration planet, our largest and only export was people. Overpopulation had completely over-saturated every local industry. Every year people my age underwent the Process to match applicants to employment pathways. Academic record, physical capability and even genetic aptitudes were considered by the Process.

“I’m sorry for the wait sir, there’s something unusual in your record. If you wouldn’t mind taking a seat in the next room someone will be with you shortly.”

I smile and nod. There’s no point in arguing, I’ll simply be thrown out and have to rejoin the line with a mark added to my application. I push my way through the crowd to the waiting room, purgatory it was affectionately nicknamed. During the Process week quirks in the system were left here to be sorted out when it was convenient. I tap the screen of my watch, dialling my mother to let her know what was happening.

“Hello, Gabe?”

“Yeah, hey mum. They lost me in the system, so I got sent to purgatory. No idea how long I’m going to be stuck here, if I’m not home by dinner can you get Henry to bring me a sleeping bag and some dinner?”

“Of course sweetie, don’t stress though. It’s all going to work out, I promise.”

“Thanks, wish I had your confidence.”

“When you’ve seen as much as I have you will. Your brother and I will be praying for you.”

“Bye mum, love you.”

The waiting room was almost eerily quiet and empty compared to the main room of the process centre. Inside were only three other people. All of processing age, the nearest two were women seated together and talking quietly together while on the far side of the room a fairly rough looking guy lay on the floor, his sleeping bag beneath his head and a hat covering his face.
Rows of chairs filled the centre of the room, but could easily be removed when space was needed for people to sleep. Khthon never stopped. The majority of the population had moved underground, reserving the surface for agriculture. As a result day and night were abstract concepts to most of us born and raised on planet. The workers would process the people day and night, the quirks in the system that bound us could be resolved any moment and if we were not here when they called us it was the back of the line. Such a drag.
Settling into one of the seats I activate my watch switching on the virtual U.I.. Online my friends had already started posting the results of their applications. Most seemed to have performed as well as was expected. I see Luna and Owen together in line, showing I’m not the only one still waiting for their results. At least five others in my extended network are the same. I post an update of my place in purgatory. The discussion fills with sympathetic platitudes and playful jibes, nothing of substance.

“Mr. Gabriel Robinson?”

I blinked twice, dismissing the U.I. to focus on reality. The source of my name was a severe looking short blonde woman stood at the back of the room watching for an answer. I stood and crossed the room to where she stood. After politely greeting me she led me through a door at the back of the room, down a corridor to a small office with a nameplate that reads ‘Grace Walker, Branch Manager’ on the door.

“Please take a seat Gabriel.”

She took her seat behind the desk as I sat across from her. I’d been in purgatory for less than half an hour, that was pretty much unheard of for a system glitch. She glanced at the monitor briefly before addressing me.

“I have your results here.”

I watch her in confusion as she paused rather than continue straight on.

“Unfortunately I’m not able to open them.”

“I’m sorry?”

“Your results have been locked. Something in your medical caused access to be restricted.”

“What does that mean for me?”

“Your guess is as good as mine here, I’m afraid. I’ve never seen this before. Before you ask, it’s not a quirk in the system. This note was left manually, by a human.”

I stare blankly at her, with no idea how I was meant to respond. In the end I simply nodded and waited for her to continue.

“If I was you I’d stay in the waiting room for now. I’ve contacted my boss, when I hear back I’ll let you know.”

She returned me to the waiting room. The other three people who’d been waiting were gone, weird, it seemed unlikely they could have all been processed during my short meeting. The only person besides me in the room hadn’t been there before, he seemed a bit old for the Process. Taking a seat at the back of the waiting room I tap my watch to activate the my virtual U.I., instead a agonising shock ripped through my body, knocking me to the floor and convulsing in pain.
The man at the front of the room stands, as he walked casually towards me the black dots covered my vision and blocked out his face. The last thing I saw was the shiny black toe of his shoe as he knelt before me. His voice strangely familiar.

“Don’t be afraid, Gabe. I’m going to take you home now.”

The blackness completely filled my vision and I drifted into unconsciousness.

The Love of the Fair Ones

Second and last of my stories in this interruption from Blood and Lies and Sonata in Red. I hope you enjoy this brief romantic tragedy.
– Zairron


She looks mournfully across the still water as it shimmers in the moonlight. The hard stone feels nice against the bare skin of her legs where she is seated. The air is cool, but she is comfortable here, regardless. The night is bereft of the sounds of life, most conspicuously missing to her ear are people. The people were all asleep, and far from here. People never came here at night, not any more.
Resting here in the glade she is overcome with bittersweet nostalgia  It used to be so lovely here she thinks to herself. People would come and bring her little gifts. They would sing her songs and always wear their most beautiful clothing. The memory of those days still brings a smile to her cherry lips. No flowers grow here any more and the trees are barren and dead. She misses the days when the earth was soft with vitality under her feet. When the moonlight was tranquil instead of haunting.
Gracefully on paths paved in moonbeams she steps through the air to rest on the slender branches that stroke the heavens. From the peak she can see miles in every direction, with only the gentle light from the stars and the moon, the world is as clear as day before her eyes.
At the centre of a long dead forest, her glade still catches the ancient magic that drips from the stars and pools at the mountain’s peak. One day the forest might be home to life once more, but that day is a distant dream. Until that day comes, she waits here for the signs of life to return.

Down in the city below a young man is woken from his sleep by the moonlight shining through his window. He looks out the window with confusion, the bright light so strangely beautiful he couldn’t remember ever seeing anything like it.
Climbing from his bed he crosses to his window, wiping the sleep from his eye with a barely suppressed yawn. The full moon hangs in the sky above the mountain that overlooks his home. So close to the outskirts of the city, the scars left by the fire are still clear even in night.
He opens his window to better see the world beyond. A bracing wind caresses him through his bedclothes, raising goose pimples and a pleasant shiver in its passing. He imagined the air before the fire. He has no memories to draw upon for an image of how the vibrant greens and the stunning wildlife enlivened the land, but somewhere deep inside his heart the he knows something is missing.
He tries to imagine what it had been like before the fire, the story his mother told him about a vain man who had spurned the love of a fairy and brought their vengeance upon the forest in his pride. He could never understand the story, for it said that the people and the fairies had been friends and neighbours before the fire. The people in their city of stone and the fairies in their moon-glades. He couldn’t fathom why the fairies would burn down their own home to spite the people over something so small. But understand it or not, the scars remained. Burned into the earth.
With stories of fairies dancing in his head, out in the night he spies a dainty figure moving beyond the cities edge. The minds of a dreamer can easily recognise magic where more wakeful people cannot. Barely free from the world of dreams and under the enchanting light of a full moon, he could no more have ignored the need to follow what he saw than he could return life to the fairy wood.

Far below her something moved in her forest, she sensed. A vibrant brilliance that reminded her of music and singing. Of baked treats and silk cloth. Her heart wept at the sensation long left behind, unable to contain itself at the beauty it felt.
Perched high up in the branches she imagines running down to find the beautiful sound. In her imagination the forest is vibrant with life, soft with moss and brilliant with every colour of flower and berry. She has barely enough magic in her moon-well to remain awake, but she dearly wants to leave and play with whoever walks in her woods.

He runs lightly over cracked black clay. His body snapping twigs and crashing through the blackened debris that would bar his way. Never before had he dared to venture out past the edges of the city and into the wild. Never before had he felt such euphoria as he does in this moment. Somehow he knows that he has been missing these woods so deeply that it aches and now that he is amongst them that constant ache has been lifted. In it’s place only the mournful sorrow at the pervasive death that surrounds him.

She dances upon moonlight and sang her sweetest song. Her soul cried out to the one who approaches her, beckoning with every fibre of her being. She can feel him, her beloved returning at long last to be with her.

The hot air rises and swirls around him as he approaches, the air shimmering and crackling as he enters the glade. Before him she burns internally arms outstretched calling to him. Witnessing her he can feel her heat radiating outwards searing his flesh and with the deepest longing he can muster he can tell she is beautiful.

Beckoning him to join him in the fire, her glamour burns brightly in his heart. His flesh peels and blisters painfully as her flames caress him lovingly. Like so many before him she draws him into her. Consuming him lustfully in the fires of their passion, the very air ignites and with the final clarity of realisation he cannot even find the breath to scream.

Absurd

Taking a days break from Sonata in Red and Blood and Lies, they’ll be back tomorrow.


I hear it again, that mechanical voice bears the unique timbre of an announcement delivered over a cheap school intercom system. It repeats the same message again and again every hour, the meaning indecipherable through the reverb and electrical distortion.
The sound follows me however far I go. Always I can hear it when it repeats. The elusive message torments me, hanging just beyond perception with every telling. Dancing subtly backwards with every step closer I take towards understanding.

I don’t know this place, or how I came to be here. There is nothing familiar about the room I find myself in, nor discernible landmarks to orientate myself by.  The lights in each room barely have the power to banish the shadows which lurk hungrily at the edges of my vision.
Whether I am truly moving or stuck in some kind of loop, I don’t know. Everything looks the same, but every step new room feels strange and different. I feel the chill air through my clothes. They aren’t my clothes. I was simply wearing them when I first realised I was. I pull them tighter to my skin, wringing every morsel of heat I can from them. Pressing ever forwards.

The message plays again. Clearer this time, like ever time. This time it’s so clear I can distinguish individual words, though I can attribute no specific meaning to them. Perhaps the message isn’t in English. I grind my teeth together in frustration.
My stomach gargles. It’s been so long since I’ve eaten. My throat is parched with thirst. I might die soon without any water. I have to keep going forward. There is nothing here but death if I stop.

What was that? A sound. Quieter than the garbled tormenting message, something hidden in the background.

Again!

I cry out to its source for salvation. I don’t want to die here alone. Anything would be better than being alone.

Only silence answer.

I want to cry. Collapse to my knees and sleep. I’m so tired. How long have I been walking now, without respite or company. Too long. The only measurement I can give in this place.

This place.

This hell.

I keep walking. There’s nothing if I stop but death. Perhaps there will be water in the next room. Food. A map with people to encourage me. At least some damned clarity in that cursed electrical mumble.

The message speaks again. It’s so grainy it’s like listening to a blizzard. Like the words have been torn apart by the wind and smashed back together in some cruel facsimile of meaning. I slam through door after door, every destination different but the same. The darkness always there, always waiting, always lurking just out of reach. Maybe if I broke the light, maybe the darkness would come and take me away.

I’m too afraid to try.

The message ends once more and the silence feels heavier this time. More final. Maybe that was the last time it would play. My last chance. My last warning. Maybe that means it’s over. That the next room will be the exit, the way outside.
Am I inside? I suppose I must be, there are no doors or lightbulbs outside. Yes. Inside. Inside an impossibly large hell.

How did I come to be here? I must have always been here. I don’t remember ever coming here. The thought is hard to carry. I’m so tired, perhaps I should just rest my eyes a moment and continue after I’ve slept.

But there’s nothing but death if I stop.

I don’t know how I know that, I’ve never died before. I’ve never stopped before, either. Is that true? Have I never stopped before? Surely I must have slept before, some time before this place.
I can’t remember what it was like before. It doesn’t matter now anyway, there’s nothing behind me, the only way forward. Is forward.

Doors open, I pass, they close. The message plays, it’s clearer this time.I almost believe I’ve understood it. Then it’s gone. Next time it will be clearer, next time I’m sure to understand it. If there is a next time.
That noise again, the sound of  movement or voices. So faint. So distant. I cry out into the void ahead of me, running faster, slamming through door after door. My voice disappears inches from my face. I am closer now, soon I will not have to wander alone. If I catch them I can be together instead.

The message plays. I understand it this time. I know I have to continue, I will find them and then we can be together. The darkness is hungry at the edge of the light. The only way to go is forwards.
My lungs burn and my muscles tear, but I can’t stop running. Not when I’m so close. The only thing left if I stop is death. The whispers are louder, they share message that repeats above. They’re calling to me, beckoning me to join them.

The room is dark. The light at the edge of everything is hungry. I am together now. There is nothing ahead but life. The message is clear, but I block it out. I want to be alone, I want to wake up.
I have always been here, with you. We are here together. We are one.

The doorway ahead is frightening, but with you by my side I can face it. Outside things will be different. I will understand then. Like you promised.

Blood and Lies (pt. 7)

Part seven in the Blood and Lies series
Part One: Blood and Lies (pt. 1)
Part Two: Blood and Lies (pt. 2)
Part Three: Blood and Lies (pt. 3)
Part Four: Blood and Lies (pt. 4)
Part Five: Blood and Lies (pt. 5)
Part Six: Blood and Lies (pt. 6)


By the back door of Jacob’s home looking out across the clearing at the forest, the farmer and the bounty hunter smoke. The older man seems sorry for the answer he has given, but resolute in it. The soldier understood the importance of privacy and the value of a secret so when he asked, it was politely and without rancour. “Mind if I ask, why it is that you can’t tell me?”

“I don’t mind,” the other man replied, exhaling smoke in a long even breath. He lowered the hand that held the cigarette to rest by his side seeming to lose interest in it. He looked thoughtfully out into nothingness until it seemed he didn’t intend to continue. A pained expression crosses his expression externalising an internal struggle for the words. “They’re secret matters. They ain’t hurtin’ secrets, they are simply ours.”

“I understand,” Telfor nods, accepting the old mans reassurance and allowing the subject to be dropped. Meanwhile in the village centre, Rubin is seated before a rapt audience of local children answering questions about magic and his appearance. Pan and Oliver had retired to join the adults and Verumalleus discussing current news in the kingdom at large.

“My family comes from a land far in the east, where I am from nearly everyone looks like I do!” The children seem suspicious of the scholars assertion, a land where everyone had red skin, horns and a tail, seems too much like one of the fairy stories. Agreeing between themselves that it must be something that happens to wizards.

“What’re ye doin’ here in t’ forest?” asks another boy. One of the older children, this lad seems to carry an almost adult curiosity to him. Rubin admired an inquisitive mind and hoped to inspire these children to cultivate that curiosity.

“I am a journeyman from The Weatherford University in the capital,” Rubin answered, “When an apprentice completes their theoretical education, we are expected to travel the kingdom for at least a year gaining practical experience.”

“Could I go to the university?” a young girl of the smaller race of deep wood folk asked from where she had climbed onto his lap, staring at him with a wide eyed look of wonder.

“Of course,” Rubin beamed down at her, ruffling her hair. “The university accepts students from all across the kingdom, as well as abroad. The Weatherford University teaches all manners of knowledge. From magic to mathematics to meteorology!”

“What’s meteorology?”

“Meteorology, is the study of the phenomena that govern the weather. A student of meteorology can predict a coming storm or a drought early enough for people to prepare”

“Does the university teach Necromancy?” one of the younger children asks, struggling with the complex word. Rubin casts her a curious and slightly concerned look at the odd question.

“Not as a field of study, though a number of fields require an understanding of its implications. Why do you ask, child?”

“When I grow up, I’m going to be a Necromancer!”

“But child, Necromancy is dark magic,” Rubin replies slowly, surprised by the children’s unexpected indifference to the declaration. One or two other children had even argued that they would be the Necromancer. “It’s practice is illegal in the kingdom.”

“That’s stupid, no-one would ever stay dead without ’em!”

Inside the large home where the adults had gathered, Verumalleus is busy sharing all the recent news in the kingdom. The folk of this village rarely brave the journey into the forest except for the monthly trips when the whole active population of the village will go into the forest to take down a razorback, one of the monstrous boars that populate the area.
The village folk were surprised to hear of how suddenly the kings health had declined and the discussion carried on for a while sharing opinions over whether the young prince was prepared for the responsibility of ruling the kingdom. The wedding between the prince and Duke Evans’ daughter, Eleanor quickly overtook the interest of the room. Seeming uninterested in the conversation Oliver’s sudden query if the Earl of Argon’s Rest had attended the wedding surprised Verumalleus.

“He wasn’t,” Pan answered during the crusader’s hesitation.

“Yes, that’s right. It was a surprise as he had been quite close to the Prince, most people expected him to at least one of the groomsmen, if not the Prince’s best man.”

Oliver nods thoughtfully at the answer before seemingly disengaging from the conversation again. The conversation turned to the new toll implemented by the guild of the road when a great pained bellow tears through the village. The elderly villagers and their guests surge to their feet and out of the house.
Bursting through the tree line into the clearing, a monstrous boar with great bone horns lining its spine comes charging towards the village. Sitting peacefully at the village’s edge Vahkragg is the first to see the boars approach. Lifting his pole-axe, the plains hunter positions himself between the boar’s charge and the village. Intently calculating the enormous beasts momentum, at the last moment Vahkragg deftly side-steps the boar carrying his axe through the movement burying it deeply into the monsters side, sending it ploughing into the dirt.

His companions are armed and by his side in moments, the children and elderly villagers looking on in awe before suddenly bursting into cheers of praise for the large man. Telfor slaps Vahkragg on the back, “God’s blood, Vahkragg. You killed that monster in a single blow!”

Vahkragg grip tightens on his axe and he glares out into the forest where the boar came from. The only one to have seen the mortal wound the boar already carried on its other side, he raises his voice over the cheers, “Get back inside! A greater threat follows!”

Rondo Alla Contrattempo

Part Nine 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


My instincts flared at Sebastian’s message. Sensing danger without origin I rapidly expand my senses into the night. I can hear the heart beats of all four guards stationed in the hall past the door beating with unaltered calm. Beyond the window the breathy whisper of the cool night air carries the almost silent rustle of an owls feathers to me. The only change in the vicinity radiates from the terrified cues of the elderly man lain before me in the dark. The message I receive is garbled and confusing, Sebastian is deceiving me, but not lying. He is afraid, but not of me. Most importantly, we are alone.

“Now is not the time for games, Sebastian,” I whisper, flavouring my words with so thin a film of malice that his only his animal instincts will recognise it. Goosebumps raise across his flesh and his heart trembles but his demeanour stays firm.
I can sense a trace of something upon him so fragile and distant that it may never have existed at all. The imperceptible air dispelled unceremoniously by Sebastian stirring to his feet. I know the aged servant is too cowardly to endanger his own life by defying me here, so I allow him to stand keeping within three paces of him. A distance where I can react to any sudden actions he may take faster than he could react.
Slowly he dodders across the room towards a large wooden desk, my heightened senses can feel his old bones grinding painfully against themselves with every step. A key that hung from his neck inserted into a concealed key hole to unlock the desks draw. Beneath a false bottom within he draws an envelope sealed with wax by an unfamiliar seal.

“Take it,” he commands flatly, the weariness in his voice born of more than age, “I don’t know anything more about who your message came from. This envelope and the instructions for your message simply appeared here one night while I was asleep.”

I study him closely. Again, he’s not telling me everything but his words carry the ring of truth with them. My instincts tell me that I’ve learned everything I can from him, his was but a walk on part in greater performance. Concealing the message into the folds of my robe, I step into the night and out of sight.
Embracing the grey, like a spirit I glide across rooftops and down alleys with all of the alacrity and grace I can muster. Searching intently for something I do not find. The early morning sun banishes the darkness shining its blinding light across the Dawn Wall above. The tallest shadows of the morning conceal my final grey steps to my hideout. An east facing cavern in the cliff face overlooking night town, practically invisible in the shadow of the dawn sun.

With Sebastian’s revelation it is certain that my vague goal of finding Sophia as a flash had succeeded and was more than I had bargained for. Whoever is pulling the strings, whether they are Sophia’s allies, enemies or incidental, they had managed to both find me and predict the mistakes and corrections I would make.
I study the seal, considering having it examined before breaking it. Discarding the idea, I reason that any that could be traced could be forged. The contents of the envelope would be far more beneficial to me. The paper within is thick, expensive paper, the kind nobility use for letters. One side of the pages is blank, turning it over I find a message written in cursive text in a fine ink.

Dear Nightingale,

Do not continue. The path you are walking is on from which you cannot return. The answers you seek will bring you neither satisfaction, nor happiness. If you are wise you will turn back now, while you still can. 

Sincerely,
A Friend

I fold the letter along its crease, returning it to the envelope. The familiar hollow feeling of fatigue that follows the use of the grey creeps through me, making it difficult to think. None of this is making any sense.
According to Sebastian the instructions for my meeting with the crow and this letter urging me to abandon this mission arrived on the same night. Either they were delivered separately or together. If separate, why would the second allow the first to remain if they are in conflict. If together, why would one messenger be delivering contradictory messages?
Tired frustration fills me as I creep down from my hiding place. Rather than the answers I had hoped for, last nights mission had just raised more questions. The walk through Night Town returned feeling to my limbs and parted the mists in my head.
No message from Olivia told me she hadn’t finished investigating my lordling-by-proxy. I’d been distracted by the setting of our first meeting, I’d expected an amateur was behind this mission at but no amateur would take anywhere near this long for Olivia to uncover. Perhaps the guards might be worth investigating, but more likely they’d be dead ends much like Sebastian. It didn’t matter, either way there was only two real choices ahead of me. Performing the job, or not. I’m no stranger to threats, I’d ignored one with far greater weight than this just last night on a whim. It seemed the only answers I was going to get would be find inside the Baronet’s estate.

 

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