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.

Blood and Lies (pt. 19)

Part Nineteen 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)
Part Seven: Blood and Lies (pt. 7)
Part Eight: Blood and Lies (pt. 8)
Part Nine: Blood and Lies (pt. 9)
Part Ten: Blood and Lies (pt. 10)
Part Eleven: Blood and Lies (pt. 11)
Part Twelve: Blood and Lies (pt. 12)
Part Thirteen: Blood and Lies (pt. 13)
Part Fourteen: Blood and Lies (pt. 14)
Part Fifteen: Blood and Lies (pt. 15)
Part Sixteen: Blood and Lies (pt. 16)
Part Seventeen: Blood and Lies (pt. 17)
Part Eighteen: Blood and Lies (pt. 18)


The week passes smoothly, the bounty hunters and the villagers enjoying their time together sharing their knowledge and skills with each other. The wounded recover quickly and in a few short weeks they are preparing to leave the village and continue their journey. Late in the afternoon while Zsófia is inspecting their wounds, Luke’s voice broadcasts a message to throughout the village, “They’re back! The hunters are home!”

“I’m sorry, I have to go meet them. I’ll check your wounds after,” Zsófia rises quickly from her chair and with an apologetic bow dashes from the house. With her departure Vahkragg shrugs his shirt back into place and the pair follow her outside.
The village is alive with people, almost two hundred people have crowded in the centre of the square. Children reunite with their parents who in turn honour the elders who welcome them home. After weeks of the village feeling empty, the sudden density of people is a surprising shift. The hunters carry the spoils of their hunt, stacks of furs, tusks and meat representing a vast treasure trove for a community such as this.
Within the centre of the crowd Pan is being introduced by Jacob to a pair of hunters, who seem to be Luke’s parents. The elderly farmer’s wife notices the pair stood by the edge and waves them over.

“Jack, Aubrey,” she says to the hunters, “This is Telfor and Vahkragg, along with Pan they helped slay the Anathema we were telling you about”

Jack puts his son down and turns to greet the pair of them. Telfor can see the couple are both very fit, though still quite young. He takes the hand Jack offers as greeting, the hand calloused and strong though differently to Jacob’s or his own.
The hunter’s demeanour is warm and welcome, his voice booms with a practised volume as he greets them, “We are in yer debt, strangers. Without ye we I dinnae want t’think what may’ve been.”

“It was nothing,” Telfor’s dismisses gruffly, “I have a daughter of my own.”

“Then you understand why it weren’t nothin’,” Aubrey interrupts firmly, her hand on her son’s shoulder holding him close to her, “We don’t have much currency, but I want t’ repay ye f’r helping us.”

Telfor shrugs noncommittally, he always felt uncomfortable accepting payment without a contract but he wasn’t so well off that he could refuse. For the moment however the conversation moves away from business, as Jack says, “I have to go now, Zsófia will want me for the sacrifice.”

The hunter pats his son on the head and hugs his mother before heading back through the crowd towards the clearing in the direction Zsófia had headed before. The crowd seems to be slowly dispersing as families and couples leave for their homes and some privacy. Aubrey leads the group back towards Jacob’s home, insisting the three visitors join them.
The seven of them are seated around the table, Aria provides refreshments for the table this time including an unusual and potent alcoholic beverage unlike any Telfor had tried back in the kingdom. Leading the conversation effortlessly Aubrey establishes herself as a supremely confident and charismatic woman. She draws the story of the fight with the Anathema from them, praising their valour and praising Verumalleus’ sacrifice in particular. She keeps them talking about their fond memories with the crusader, skillfully maintaining the positive mood.

“I wish I could have met her, she sounds like my kind of woman,” she concludes with a smile to Pan who looks away into the distance. For a moment Telfor wonders if she had been flirting with the Revenant, but decides it best not to think to hard on. At least Pan seemed to be being helped thinking of Verumalleus positively.

The sacrifice keeps Jack and Zsófia away for of the rest of the day, Aubrey explains that the reason the hunt takes so long is the need to capture the razorback alive. Almost half of the month long expedition involves tracking, pursuing and funnelling the monster into trap. When a child is born or elder dies, one of the domesticated pigs is a worthy sacrifice but during the birth and death of the year, known in the kingdom as the solstices, the Wild God grows hungry and demands a meal. The razorback is trapped in a pit out in the forest, far enough from the village so it wouldn’t be a threat if it passed the pit on the first funnel.
When Jack and Zsófia returns the next night, Aubrey explains, there would be a huge party to celebrate the Wild God’s satiety. “I think everyone will enjoy having some outsiders to show off for as well.”

They drink well into the night, Vahkragg the only one remaining sober despite drinking as much as anyone else. Aria is the first to leave for bed, with Luke being made to turn soon after by his mother in spite of his protests. Vahkragg loses interest in the conversation and turns in closer to midnight. Telfor feels a pleasant lethargy from the drink to his thoughts. Trading war stories with Jacob’s hunting stories brings him back to his youth. As the older men begin to slow Aubrey takes Pan to continue drinking with other young folk, if he’d been a bit younger or more sober Telfor might have gone with them. He had noticed Aubrey’s flirting had started to be reciprocated by Pan and he was concerned it may lead to something.
In the end his legs disagreed with his mind’s suggestion to follow them, and so forced to leave it in the hands of fate the grey soldier bids his older drinking buddy a good night and carefully makes his way to bed. As he struggles with the complicated process of laying down his groggy mind pointlessly wonders as to where Rubin had been. Closing his eyes, as well into the bedroll as he can manage the pessimistic part of his brain thinks, “I should enjoy my rest, I’ll deal with whatever mess they’ve been making tomorrow.”

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.

Blood and Lies (pt. 18)

Part Eighteen 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)
Part Seven: Blood and Lies (pt. 7)
Part Eight: Blood and Lies (pt. 8)
Part Nine: Blood and Lies (pt. 9)
Part Ten: Blood and Lies (pt. 10)
Part Eleven: Blood and Lies (pt. 11)
Part Twelve: Blood and Lies (pt. 12)
Part Thirteen: Blood and Lies (pt. 13)
Part Fourteen: Blood and Lies (pt. 14)
Part Fifteen: Blood and Lies (pt. 15)
Part Sixteen: Blood and Lies (pt. 16)
Part Seventeen: Blood and Lies (pt. 17)


Verumalleus’ funeral is held later the same day. With Telfor and Vahkragg awake and able to stand they insist, before the body can further decay. The ceremony is attended by all the people of the village, honouring the sacrifice she made to defend them. Zsófia presides over the funeral first showing knowledge of the traditional sacraments to Atyx, cremating the body on a pyre that will burn until twilight. As the sun sets and the hour of passage begins Pan and Telfor speak to her memory over the embers of the dying flame. Telling of her bravery and compassion so the gods may be reminded of her virtues and bless her judgement.
Afterwards Zsófia takes those who knew Veru aside, privately instructing them in the rites of the Wild God. To allow her soul safe passage from His forest without becoming Anathema they sacrificing a pig, given by the villagers, as payment. The rite is short and bloody, Vahkragg and Telfor holding the pig in place so Pan can slit its throat with a bone knife. Growing suddenly dark and towering Zsófia becomes a vessel for The Wild God as the blood spurts from the wound, opening her mouth impossibly wide the blood is sucked through the air into the maw that becomes of her mouth.
The last of the blood drains from the pig, and the Wild God departs Zsófia. The priestess collapses shuddering to her knees, vomiting dark clots of blood onto the dirt. Rubin was nowhere to be seen.

***

Midnight rises and the waxing moon shines its light upon the ashen remnants of the funeral pyre. While the village sleeps, Rubin stands in solemn introspection alone by where Verumalleus has been cremated. Since the confrontation with Zsófia he has avoided the others waiting for a private moment to pay his respects.

“I’m sorry I was here for your funeral, There was something I needed to do.” he explains quietly to the empty night, “I messed up. I never expected I’d have to do this without you. I’m afraid that I won’t be able to without your guidance. God’s I hope I made the right choice. I’ll see this through to the end, rest well and leave the rest to us.”

The air crackles with power. Placing a palm on the earth the fire had burned, the electricity in the air is drawn into him and dissipates into the ground. He stands and bows his head one last time before turning to walk away. In the spot he had touched the soil a tiny shoot of green breaks free of the soil.

***

“Since ye’ll be stayin’ a mite longer ‘an expected, ye’ll be gettin’ ter meet me son an’ t’other hunters,” Jacob tells Pan while they are working the field. Vahkragg and Telfor are helping Aria with less less physically strenuous activities, while Rubin shares knowledge with the children and entertaining them with magic. The village fields are small so there is plenty of time for talking while they work, which Jacob is happy to take advantage of, “Aria an’ me ‘ave just the one child. Jack. Luke, who you met before, is our grandson. Jack’s a good boy, better now he has Aubrey to keep him in line.”

Pan wipes sweat from his brow, blisters from the hoe already forming in his palm. No soft city dweller, the revenant is a little surprised by how tiring the farm work feels while the much older Jacob hardly seems to notice the work.
Listening to the old man talking about his home had taught Pan a fair amount about life this far out into the kingdom. Hunting villages like this one are rare in the kingdom these days, agricultural advances have largely made the practice obsolete except for niche markets like fur and bone. The magic of the black forest prevents the villagers from ever being able to clear enough land to safely rely on farming for their needs. At the same time the magic of the forest spawns monsters enough to threaten the villages safety without regular hunts. The culture of the village as a result is very tight knit, men and women join their first hunts as soon as they were judged capable and would regularly travel out until their age slowed them enough to endanger the group. Hunters succumbed to the dangers of the forest, enough that there was a cultural acceptance of death as simply a part of life and the purpose of funerals was to celebrate life rather than mourn passing.
Life here was unusual to Pan who had spent most of his life within the civilised lands of the kingdom, but it was not unpleasant. The old man’s pride in describing his home and family helped with the sorrow he felt.

“What about you, boy? Ye’ got a fam’ly waitin’ fer ye’ back home?”

“No, I’ve never had the time to start one,” Pan answers, the kind genuine interest from the old man into his history feels a novelty compared to the hard questions he’s used to regarding his condition, “Served in the northern bulwark for most of my youth, til I died in duty. I was one of the ones who got back up with his mind intact. There’s not a lot of procedure for people like me so they quietly discharged me and I took up with Telfor and Vahkragg’s offer to turn merc so I could get away from that place. Since then it’s been hard to find a girl willing to look past that, especially when we’re on the road so often.”

“Ah’m sorry t’hear tha’ lad,” Jacob answers conveying offence had not his intention with the softness of his words, switching back to his positive banter he continues, “Still, hard worker like you, Ah’m sure ye’ won’ be lookin’ too long when y’set yer mind to et. Lass might even catch yer eye here once the hunters are home.”

Pan laughs, remembering Veru’s smile and quietly dismissing the old man’s encouragement.


Whoops! Just realised I totally forgot about Jacob’s accent at some point in the previous stories, rookie mistake.

Also the Sonata in Red series will be having a brief intermission, I feel like it’s reached a nice cliff-hanger and I want to let it hang for a short period and use the time to shake things up a little with some quick explorative short stories.

-Zairron

First Movement Crescendo

Part Nineteen 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
Part Seventeen: Paradiso e Inferno
Part Eighteen: A Taste of Eternity


“I have a sister, but not through blood,” I answer, wishing to make her happy with my answer.

“That won’t explain it,” the man Skandha interrupts, “The condition doesn’t come from his human ancestry.”

“What are you talking about,” I demand, growing frustrated by their cryptic talking about me as if I weren’t right here.

“Perhaps a sibling on the other side?” the beautiful woman asks Skandha as they continue to ignore me.

“Possibly,” he says in an unconvinced tone, “I don’t know if they even work that way.”

“But he could be half, or at least only a part of it?” the woman with the painful eyes asks.

“It is possible,” he repeats in the same uncertain tone.

I lean back in my seat, containing my frustration. As much as I want to shout and demand they stop ignoring me, I’m not confident enough that whatever reason they wanted me for requires me to remain alive and in one piece.
The beautiful woman returns to her position on the other side of the table, the three who had spoken continue to discuss me with the same veiled language they’ve used thus far. I can’t see Raktabīja but I can sense his menacing presence behind me, observing me silently. The fourth Mara neither joins the others in their conversation, nor looks at me. He seems entirely focused on his tea, which he has been drinking with an almost ritualistic intensity since it was poured.

“Can we still do it with just him?” the pain woman asks.

“I can’t say,” frustration has entered his voice, though it is restrained, “The message is… vague. Unlike the machine they use we have to sift manually through impossible amounts of information. We’re mostly working from guesswork.”

I wonder if this message might be what prompted them to want me, but if so I couldn’t think of who might have sent it or why. After that he makes even less sense, I suppose they may be competing with another of the cartels. The machine may be one of the registers the guard captains use at the wall, but that would imply that one of the cartels had managed to steal a register. That would be suicide, if it was even possible. The aristocracy guard the registers as jealously as they guard anything to do with the Aberrant, stealing one would bring down the wrath of the Nobility.
The talking stops briefly, the woman with the hateful eyes seems deep in thought and the other two await a response from her. I look down at my tea, suspicious of whether another sip would return me to that place of understanding again, or if more could have an even stronger effect.
I take the cup in my hand. The pressure from the eyes of the leader begins to build in me again. I grit my teeth and curse her silently, throwing the cup back and swallowing the contents as rapidly as I can without meeting her gaze.
The darkness and cold from before materialises instantly, my mind is flung violently into the pandemonium in contrast to the gentle drift from the earlier sip. Before reality completely vanishes I hear the beautiful woman ask, “Was it really okay to let him drink that?”

The woman with the wicked eyes replies with sadistic malice, “If not, we’ve already learned there are others.”

***

I come to in the other place. The maelstrom of darkness and light, where heat and cold exist together. I feel the same sense of tranquillity as last time. This place feels like home. I feel connected to this place, like everything is as one. The surging chaos that makes up this place tears through me where my body would be, but I am unharmed. Releasing the desperate connection to form I had never known I carried with me, I spread across everything and become everything. I feel myself burning at the centre of the sun, covering the earth in every stream and ocean, my bones are the mountains and every breath of wind is the air from my lungs. I understand the innermost natures of things, the truth and freedom from constraint is paradise.
I see the past and the future together as one. I see all this is beside what could have been. I see the people I have hurt, by my presence as well as my absence and I weep. I remember now why I went back last time. Not from her voice but by my own choice, by my shame of my failings and the desire to be better. I reach out across eternity to the distant extremes I have spread and pull myself back together. Denying myself paradise is the same as being in hell but until I make things better I cannot stay.

“I want to go back!” I cry into the void. In the space beyond and within everything I feel the presence respond to my cry. I can feel it watching me, I can feel it has always watched me, and everyone else. I feel so small before it.

“Please, I can’t stay here.” I cry as loudly as I can, “There are people I have left behind who are suffering because of me. Let me go back and make it better.”

It acknowledge my request, sending me back through the immeasurable distance and time to where I had been. Before I return it tells me a secret truth I cannot contain within myself. At once I am back in the room with the Mara, the memory of the other place a fading dream. The only thing that has returned with me is the sense of purpose I’d discovered.
It is as if no time at all had passed while I had been in the other place. Even with the last vestiges of the experience fade from my memory I feel altered by the experience. Under the gaze of the woman with the cruel eyes I feel no pain. My body feels refreshed, the damage from my fall completely healed.

“I think it worked,” she says to the man on her right, his expression one of silent awe.

I grin across the table at her, my confidence completely returned, “I think it did too.”

 

A Taste of Eternity

Part Eighteen 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
Part Seventeen: Paradiso e Inferno


Raktabīja pours tea for the Mara and me. It’s smell is different to the tea I am used to, not unpleasant but very strong. I raise the cup to my lips, using it to conceal my observing the four Mara seated across from me.
Furthest on the left is a man with the darkest skin of the four of them. Dressed in a finely tailored outfit of mostly black broken up with enough deep reds to prevent the attire from seeming monotone. His head is shaved smooth, giving him a refined appearance that at the same time conceals his age.
To his right the woman who had welcomed me, the only one of the four openly watching me as I drink. Her smile extends momentarily as I look at her, possibly she has noticed my eyes on her. She has cunning eyes, their intensity distracts me from everything everything else about her, my instincts tell me she is in charge here.
Next to her a man dressed in a simple well made outfit is seated. He is handsome but wears an air of humility that makes no brag of it. Two gold rings his only jewellery, one plain gold band on his left index and on his right ring finger a large ruby on simple gold base.
The final Mara is a young woman is gracefully seated. Her eyes and lips are painted in deep rich tones that enhance her natural beauty and she is dressed in light vibrant colours that stand out against her dark skin. Her hair cascades down her shoulders the styled waves seem completely natural. Her hands are intricately tattooed in a delicate pattern and elegant gold and silver jewellery adorns her from head to toe with, inlaid with numerous precious stones.
I lower my tea, returning it to the table. The four Mara doing the same. I expect one of them to speak, but instead they watch me silently. Growing uneasy by the silence I speak, “You have my gratitude for saving my life.”

The woman who had spoken inclines her head slightly. Her eyes narrow quizzically, but still doesn’t speak. Even Raktabīja watches me silently, five sets of eyes locked on me waiting for something. I look down at my tea, wondering if it was poisoned though I can’t imagine what purpose killing me would serve now.
The air turns cold in my lungs, with thoughts of poison and murder I spring to my feet. The damage from the waterfall is still too great and I collapse in a heap on the floor as soon as I’ve risen from my chair. The Mara continue to watch me impassively as the cold radiates outwards from my lungs, the blood freezing in my veins and my extremities turning numb. I struggle for the grey, for my blades but my fingers and mind are too clumsy to properly grip either.
My vision grows fuzzy and distant. The pressure from Raktabīja’s powerful grip as he lifts me from the floor and places me back in the chair feels like the caress of a phantom. As ice spreads through my muscles and lock my joints in place, I can see the Mara who had greeted me still staring at me with her intense cunning. I want to curse her, but my mouth cannot move.
Her voice echoes like crystal in a cave of ice, “Just like you predicted, Skandha.”

“Not quite,” one of the men replies, my eyes are frozen in place and I my hearing is strange so I can’t tell which of the two had spoken. The same voice continues, “He did survive, and is awake, but he has been affected. I’m not sure what that could mean.”

The sound of voices continues, but my hearing seems to drift out of sync with my mind and while I can hear sounds around me I cannot understand them. All of my senses experience the same disconnect. My mind is adrift in a sea of discordant sensations, the only constant amongst the chaos is the ever present deadly chill and all consuming darkness.
I wonder if this might be what dying feels like. I feel remarkably tranquil to my own surprise, no rage or sorrow, just a sense of contentment as I let go of the desire to control or perceive my surroundings. The storm that surrounds me slowly begins to form recognisable patterns. Memories form together in chains guided by some external maternal hand. Silver pin pricks of light form and penetrate the pandemonium. With the light comes warmth. The dark and cold that surround me are not banished by the light and head, but mingle with them. Creating pure comprehension that defies language.

“Wake up, Nightingale,” her voice shatters everything. I realise where I am, all the sights and sounds in sharp jarring focus all at once. Confusion overtakes me, I can feel the moment of comprehension and tranquillity slip beyond my fingertips. Fading like a lost dream. The loss is heart breaking. I hate her for taking it from me, I stare at her, wishing for her to die. She simply laughs continuing to speak, “You’re not an ordinary human are you?”

“I am a shadow,” I answer sharply, she had taken everything from me to ask a question she already knew the answer to.

“But you’re not simply a shadow, are you Nightingale?”

I simply stare hatefully, having no answer to give that could satisfy either of us.

“A shadow should have expired from the tea you drank,” she explains, her eyes tormenting me, boring painfully into my skull but not permitting me to look away, “What are you, Nightingale?”

“I told you, I’m a shadow,” the pain in my head continues to build, like a giant larvae is growing testing my skull for weak points to burst out from. Her eyes continue to pour her evil presence into me, I want to scream but I refuse to give her the satisfaction.
Suddenly the pressure breaks. She blinks releasing me from the chains of her gaze and turns to the lightly dressed man on her right, “Skandha?”

He replies in the voice I had heard before but couldn’t place, “I’m not sure, he seems to be telling the truth but we were not wrong. Somehow he both is and isn’t.”

I realise that the beautiful, jewelled woman has moved and is seated beside me. Up close she is even more beautiful than she had been across the table, I felt a desire for her that I hadn’t felt so deeply since my surgery. She places a soft palm on my cheek, her closeness makes my heart race as the smell of her fills my nostrils.
She searches me for something, then addressing me asks, “Do you have a sibling? A twin perhaps?”

Blood and Lies (pt. 16)

Part Sixteen 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)
Part Seven: Blood and Lies (pt. 7)
Part Eight: Blood and Lies (pt. 8)
Part Nine: Blood and Lies (pt. 9)
Part Ten: Blood and Lies (pt. 10)
Part Eleven: Blood and Lies (pt. 11)
Part Twelve: Blood and Lies (pt. 12)
Part Thirteen: Blood and Lies (pt. 13)
Part Fourteen: Blood and Lies (pt. 14)
Part Fifteen: Blood and Lies (pt. 15)


Pan is the first to his feet interposing himself between Zsófia and Rubin. In close proximity to her, he can clearly see the stress on the priestess’ body. He recognises the almost imperceptible trembling in her muscles. The ordinarily imperceptible pressure the weight of Jacob’s hand places on her shoulder causes her to buckle at the knees forcing the older man to catch her. Behind him as he watches her be lowered into an empty seat, Pan can feel Rubin’s murderous glare. Turning to face the scholar he can see a darkening blush spreading its way across Rubin’s light red skin. While in the corner of his eye he can see the only one to remain seated is Telfor, his hands interlaced in front of his face.

“Sit down, Rubin,” Telfor’s voice is quiet but brooks no dissent. The scholar remains still, showing no sign of having heard the order. There’s something in his eyes that Pan doesn’t like, something calculating concealed behind the make of fury.

“Rubin,” offering a low tone of insistence Pan reinforces the order, Rubin seems to snap back to reality and with a stiff necked nod returns to his seat. Choosing to remain standing at the head of the table between where those two are seated, Pan crosses his arms and adopts a casual stance trying to conceal his tense readiness.
The atmosphere has been oppressive since Zsófia’s outburst, a feeling like all sound is being drained out of the room. Even when they had been talking Rubin down the words had seemed like they had come from another place. He watches everyone cautiously, from the opposite sides of the table Jacob and Telfor are trying to find some middle ground to allow for Rubin to accept Zsófia. The weight of Oliver’s absence hung heavily over Pan’s mind, bringing him in was Verumalleus’ final mission, and they’d failed despite her death because of Rubin’s indoctrinated hatred of Zsófia.

“Before we continue this conversation,” Pan says, addressing the table while watching the university scholar, “What are we going to do about this idiot’s betrayal.”

Slamming his fist into the table, Rubin reels on Pan, heat rising from his crimson flesh. His rage palpable he points an accusatory finger in Zsófia’s direction and yells, “Truly? Are you so blinded to the forest for the trees?! Our job was to arrest a necromancer, well there it is!”

The tension balances on a razor’s edge. Everyone in the room can feel the atmospheric mana rising from Rubin and Zsófia, threatening to explode in sorcerous power, while between them Pan has gripped the grip of his blades tightly, ready to act with a thought.

“Rubin,” Telfor’s voice is steady, cutting through the thick air like a cold blade to bring the energy back to neutral, “There are innocents all around. If you start something here you’ll be going somewhere you can never come back from.”
Looking around at the faces of Jacob, Ariel and Luke, all of them, even the child, seem prepared to fight to protect Zsófia. His expression of fury seems to twist at this realisation, no less present or powerful, but beyond catharsis. Eventually, rather than being released, it is once more masked as he returns to the table.
“Zsófia, I want to thank you for your saving my friend and my life.” Telfor’s continues calmly, as if nothing had even happened, “I apologise for the harshness of our meeting, I would like to try and explain my companions actions against you.”

Zsófia’s expression is suspicious, though she has a naive quality about her as she listens politely to Telfor’s explanation, “Rubin is a scholar of the Weatherford University, he was raised by the university from a young age. His home land was destroyed due to the acts of black sorcerers and he is one of the few of his people left thanks to the being rescued by our Kingdom. He is still young like you, and he hasn’t yet experienced much of the world outside of the capital. I think you could learn a lot from one another while we remain here for Vahkragg and I to recover.”

Rubin’s expression doesn’t change at all at the decision. Telfor is a very experienced leader and a good read of people, he’s gambling that Rubin might if not accept Zsófia at least learn something from interacting positively with her.
Zsófia looks at Rubin in consideration. Driven not by hatred, but fear, the idea of being friendly seems welcome but still frightening. Telfor was right, she couldn’t be much older than Rubin if she even was, with an even more limited amount of experience of the world beyond her home.

“I’m sorry for yelling at you before,” her timid voice a stark change to before, the anger fueled strength of her previous outburst seemingly gone, “I had no idea of what you’d been through. I’m sorry for everything that happened to you, but please believe me that I’m nothing like those evil sorcerers. I never want to hurt anyone, if you’ll give me a chance I hope I can prove that to you.”

The dark red blush has almost entirely covered the visible skin on Rubin’s head. He turns his head half towards Zsófia when she speaks, but doesn’t quite meet her gaze. The attention of the room is on him, waiting to see his reaction to the extended olive branch. As his silence extends, Zsófia’s confidence begins to waver. Shrugging Pan’s hand away from his shoulder, Rubin pushes back his chair and rises to his feet. Without a word he makes for the front door, opening it and stepping out into the morning sun.
Pan looks to Telfor, silently asking if he should follow. Shaking his head, the grey soldier sighs quietly. To the revenant, Telfor seems momentarily old. The oldest of the three soldiers, Telfor had always seemed older to Pan but never old. He realises that Telfor always put his people first, the sting of shame at his own behaviour rising up as he realises that he must be blaming himself for Verumalleus’ death and Vahkragg’s condition.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Cadence of Hope and Despair

Part Eighteen 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
Part Seventeen: Paradiso e Inferno


Like from the hounds of hell we are chased across the vast fields of the farms that surround Caelestis. Raktabīja’s feet slam through the soft turned soil as we charge desperately towards the city. Each thundering step an explosion of pain in my chest. Broken ribs cruelly assaulted by his punishing pace.
The sky takes a strange ethereal quality through the lens of my non-human senses, like the colours have inverted. The world has split in two, through my human eyes the world is bright and in focus while the inhuman senses tell me I am wreathed in flame and lightning threatens to tear the very heavens asunder.
The brightest light is the celestial radiance that is the Angel. In just the short sprint across the fields he is no longer a spec in the distance but close enough for me to recognise his features as James’ companion. Pursued by an invincible monster, invisible to my mundane sight so only at the edge of my perception can I can see him. My mind shatters. Too terrified to even scream, I stare into the empty space that I know conceals him utterly hopeless.
Ahead of us the entrance to Night Town grows rapidly beneath the shadow of the mountain. The open fields of the agricultural districts replaced by the outskirts of the sprawling metropolis. The comforting sounds of thousands of ordinary humans going about their business slowly building to a mighty roar.

“Shroud yourself,” Raktabīja shouts over the roar of the wind whipping around us. I want to argue, the grey feels beyond my reach at first. I grapple with it reaching to find the half focused serenity that is necessary for the change. Pain in my chest with the overwhelming pressure of Raktabīja and the Angel’s aura’s pummel my ability to concentrate. Closing my eyes I accept the pain, releasing it on my exhalation. A technique Benjamin had taught me. Drawing on the dregs of my will I manage to summon just enough control to cloak myself in the mist.
The law as well as the cartel’s are ruthlessly strict enforcing the veil of separation between people and monster blood users. Feared for carrying the power of the aberrant we are loathed by the pure humans. The sheer weight of their numbers an insurmountable threat when roused as one instinctual mass. Any visible incidence of aberrant power will spark riots, lynching and more. That’s why whether shadow, devil or crow the first skill any of us learn is to hide.
As the grey envelops me it enhances my reflexes and opens my senses to comprehend the incomprehensible pace Raktabīja moves through the vast slow moving crowds. The difference between us apparent to me. Under the grey I can glide like water through the city, Raktabīja moves like the wind. Even burdened by my weight he movement have a feline grace such that I might weep if I had had the time to simply watch him.
But what is the wind to lightning? We enter the labyrinthine streets, Raktabīja taking advantage of his intimate familiarity with the area can only barely keep ahead of our pursuer. Through the ebb and flow of our chase at times he is almost close enough that I could reach out and touch him. Perfection. I watch him in deep awe. More beautiful than handsome, he is imposing beyond words. The brilliant of his radiance causes all other light to dim, the source of the darkening of the sky. Every movement he makes is perfectly effortless, never wasting a single movement. I realise the folly in thinking we could escape. With him as our opponent, we never stood a chance.

Towards a narrow stone arch we race. Just a few more steps and he will catch us. I’m surprised to realise that I am smiling, grinning ear to ear. My face cracked with reckless glee. To myself I think, “This will be a glorious death”
Then just as we step through the arch, it explodes. The force of the explosion slams into us, tearing me from Raktabīja’s grip and hurling us into the hard stone of the alleyway. Behind us the explosion has separated us from the angel, a thick cloud of dust and smoke obscures him from view. Leaping from the buildings above four more demons wreathed in the same flame as Raktabīja wielding deadly looking blades, drop into the smoke where the angel was.
I feel a powerful hand grab me and pull me painfully from the ground, Raktabīja has recovered from the blow. Lifting me back onto his shoulder he carries me through an exit to the alley I hadn’t noticed. The screams of fighting and death behind us, I pray include the Angel amongst them. A false wall is dragged to conceal the exit once we are through by four large me, around us seems to be an enormous stone building resplendently adorned to rival the richest estates in The Day. Set as if to entertain many tens of people in spacious comfort, the room is currently empty but for Raktabīja, myself and a group of two women and two men. As dark skinned as Raktabīja dressed in exotic finery worthy of the aristocracy. Glowing ever so faintly with the sign of the aberrant I decide that these must be Raktabīja’s masters.

“Welcome Nightingale, we are pleased to see that you have accepted out offer. We are the Mara,” One of the women spoke as Raktabīja carried me to them, placing me down on a seat across from them, “You’ve cost us a lot just to protect you, I hope you’re worth it.”

Nursing my broken body, barely able to breath without sobbing I stare at them across the table. Five demons and an Angel just for me, I’m a decent enough shadow but whatever they hope I’m worth, they have obviously overpaid. With the immediate danger passed, the reality begins to sink in.
These Mara now own me. The Royals apparently want me badly enough to send an angel. I’m being manipulated by a Marchioness and tailed by a true shadow. And I don’t even know why.

Blood and Lies (pt. 15)

Part Fifteen 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)
Part Seven: Blood and Lies (pt. 7)
Part Eight: Blood and Lies (pt. 8)
Part Nine: Blood and Lies (pt. 9)
Part Ten: Blood and Lies (pt. 10)
Part Eleven: Blood and Lies (pt. 11)
Part Twelve: Blood and Lies (pt. 12)
Part Thirteen: Blood and Lies (pt. 13)
Part Fourteen: Blood and Lies (pt. 14)


“I assume you are all familiar with the history of rise of House Karilas,” Jacob begins slowly, having moved inside the conversation to his home. Seated at the dining table Telfor, Rubin and Pan are served each a cup of tea. Removing the threat Rubin’s university given duty posed to Zsófia allowed her and Aria to tend Vahkragg’s injuries in peace.
The old man holds the trio’s interest firmly with the force of his words. Each needing his explanation for their own reasons. He reads from their silent comprehension that they each have at least a passing knowledge of the story of William Karilas the Holy. The legends of how he conquered the disparate tribes and establishing the Kingdom and the ordering of the gods are common knowledge for even the youngest children. With their acknowledgement Jacob continues, “Our people have been removed from the greater part of the church’s influence. Here the old gods still hold still hold power.”

Telfor watches Rubin’s reaction through the corner of his eye. The scholar’s upbringing had been a product of the kingdom. His worldview still needs to be shaped by experiencing the broader world.
As an anointed crusader Verumalleus had been a positive moderating influence on the young scholar’s zeal. Deeply versed in the teachings of the church with empathy gained through years of experience working with people far from the centres of power, she was able to challenge his black and white notions of the world. As simple soldiers, none of the others could hold Rubin’s respect on an intellectual level.
Seeming deep in thought to Telfor’s eyes, the soldier feels his concern for the younger man’s future actions alleviated very slightly.

“I understand that you must see Zsófia’s magic as a profane thing,” the old man directs the words mostly to Rubin, “We recognise the divinity and virtue of the pantheon and worship them as faithfully as any of the folk in Pike’s Reach, but the gods cannot be everywhere at once. In the corners of the world where civilisation has less of a presence, the gods that were cast out by the pantheon rule in the pantheon’s shadows.
The Anathema is part of this, it is an avatar of The Wild God that is created by sins against him. Zsófia is a priestess of The Wild God, the power you saw that allowed her to treat the poison of the Anathema is His power. While her power would be considered necromancy by the kingdom, it is necessary for our survival here. She does not pursue the power to violate the natural order or profane the dead, but to protect the living.”

The old man’s speech is as one pleading for the life of a loved one. In Telfor’s eyes, the question of arresting Zsófia is a simple one, as he already owed his life and Vahkragg’s to her.
Beside him Pan and Rubin’s expressions are less easily read. The revenant seems by Telfor’s knowledge of him to have grown more suspicious since hearing the truth, while Rubin seems to remain deep in thought.
Jacob watches the three of them closely for any response. With nothing given by the others Telfor chooses to speak, “I owe Zsófia my life. Vahkragg’s as well. I will keep her secret.”

“What sins specifically summon the Anathema,” Pan asks quietly.

“I’m not the most knowledgeable on The Wild God’s rules,” Jacob admits, “As I said, we only follow the pantheon as in the kingdom proper. Zsófia can tell you more when she has helped your friend, if the power hasn’t drained her again. I know that he demands sacrifices, that is the true purpose of the hunt our young men and women are on now. There are offerings that must be made when one is born or dies, Zsófia guides the families through the specifics.”

“How does the village get a priest?” Rubin asks next.

“The tradition is passed down from parent to child. Zsófia’s family have always been The Wild God’s servants here, her father before her and his father before him.”

“What if Zsófia died or left the village without having taught a child?”

“I’m afraid I don’t know,” Jacob’s voice gives no indication to his thoughts on that admittance.

Pan’s suspicion seems to have diminished again in Telfor’s eyes, while Rubin’s light red cheeks have turned a darker shade with his internal struggle continuing as he struggles with the implications.

“How do you know The Wild God creates the Anathema from your sins?” he at last asks, putting the thought to words giving him the confidence to continue, “How do you know it isn’t a naturally occurring beast or that the offerings aren’t what gives the god the power to create it? Beyond the words of a single family of necromancers, what proof do you have?”

Telfor and Pan look back at Jacob, the question seems to stump the old man who hesitates before answering, “She can neutralise the Anathema’s poison when no other treatment can and the Anathema don’t come when we make the offerings.”

“I assume from Zsófia’s pressence that you have been keeping up with your offerings, and yet an Anathema did come.” Rubin crows, “And when it came, it was not The Wild God who protected you, but Atyx.”

The smugness in Rubin’s voice gives a cruel twist to the flippant reminder of Verumalleus’ sacrifice. He can see Pan feels the same way, only ignoring the comment because of a desire for the answer.
Jacob’s mouth opens and closes several times as he struggles for an answer. The pause even longer before his answer this time, and the words are delivered more slowly, “That is true, we have kept up our sacrifices. It is also true that our salvation was paid for by your companion’s noble sacrifice, Atyx bless her soul. I guess I cannot offer you definitive proof, the Anathema has always come in the past when we have failed to make the sacrifice. This is the first time in almost a hundred years that one has came.”

“How do you know it came from a missed sacrifice when it was almost a hundred years ago?” Telfor interrupts Rubin to ask.

“My grandfather told me the story when I was a lad, a storms interrupted the hunt and we couldn’t make a sacrifice in time. He said that many men died, more would have without Zsófia’s grandfather tending to the poisoned.”

“At the university there are toxicologists who could create an antidote from a sample of the poison,” Rubin responds, then seeming to realise something continues, “Can you be sure Zsófia’s family haven’t simply done the same and abused this knowledge for status privilege?”

“I would never do that!” Zsófia cries, having just entered in time to hear Rubin’s accusation. She storms towards the scholar looking pale and weak, but with a powerful fury in her eyes. The scholar rises rapidly from his chair, to meet her charge as she continues to shout, “Do you think I enjoy letting that bastard use my body to enter the world? Can you even imagine how painful it is to be the crucible for the might of a god?!”

Paradiso e Inferno

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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