ONE: Anniversary [Argenstrath]
took his time locking up the seven large gated archways leading to the jail
courtyard. It was late enough that the last of the oil streetlamps were
beginning to die out and not a soul was seen wandering the street; even the
drunkards and libertines had gone to bed. As a rookie, the third-shift jail
patrol had given him the creeps, but tonight he had volunteered. He volunteered
every year on this night.
When the morning guard relieved
him at the last gate, Grimwall did not go home. Instead, he trudged back to his
office, lit the lamp and poured himself a drink from the almost-empty decanter
on his desk.
As he shuffled through his
paperwork, his office door groaned at him as it inched open.
“Hello?” Grimwall called to the
dark hallway. No reply. As he turned back to his work, a cool breeze pierced
the room, slamming the office door completely open with such force that it
cracked the sandstone wall behind it. Tendrils of the icy air coiled around Grimwall’s
wrists and up his spine like ivy.
“Warren, that you?!” Grimwall
shouted again into the black. Again, there was no reply. Impatiently, he
slammed the door shut. In the moment his back was turned, the decanter had tipped
over, covering the desk in deep amber liquid. The stopper rolled through the
puddle of scotch and onto the floor with a small thud.
“I’m going crazy,” Grimwall
muttered resolutely to himself. His hands barely touched the decanter as the ice
flashed through him again with such ferocity that he dropped the bottle,
spilling the rest of the contents on the floor.
quiet, high-pitched giggle echoed through the room.
I’m obviously out of my damned mind.”
His heartbeat quickened and the
laughter grew louder as if to not be drown out by the rush of his blood pumping
through his veins. Grimwall could feel the room begin to tunnel and spin around
him and he grabbed onto the edge of the desk, trying to steady himself.
“Will you come read to me?”
The melodic voice settled in the
pit of Grimwall’s chest, a torrid lead bullet.
turned slowly. The girl standing by the door was barely seven with dark braids,
still damp from a bath, draped over her blue nightgown. She looked back at
Grimwall with his own green eyes.
“Please?” the girl pleaded. For a
moment she seemed to flicker. Solid but somehow...insubstantial. She smiled and
reached his hand, but he snatched it away quickly.
is impossible,” he breathed.
girl frowned, staring at the hand he’d just shoved in his vest pocket.
know you’re busy, but just one, I promise!”
realized when the girl spoke, her lips didn’t move. He stepped behind the desk and reached for
his gun, aiming with shaking hands.
are you here?” Grimwall choked out.
seemed to float across the floor toward him, but soon Grimwall realized she was
treading through the brandy, a thin layer covered the entire office floor now.
She flickered again.
reappeared so close to Grimwall he could smell her lavender soap. Her nightgown
was soaked through now and her braids so wet that they were dripping in tiny
constant streams into the ever-growing pool beneath them.
he shot, and the bullet ripped through her chest and into the opposite wall.
Black seeped from the wound onto her nightgown. She didn’t stop moving, her
brow furrowed and the shadows grew under her eyes.
she cornered him against the wall, Grimwall dropped to his knees.
understand… I was trying to keep you safe…”
stared at him with bloodshot eyes. Her lips were purple and swollen now, veins
showed through her yellowed, translucent skin. The liquid was at his waist,
just barely below her chest. It wasn’t brandy anymore, but darker and growing
hotter every second.
so sorry, darling.”
reached for his hand again, her grip so strong the gun fell disappeared into
the pool and he could hear his wrist crack.
girl’s mouth opened, and black liquid dripped out, matching her bullet wound.
There’s wasn’t a voice now, but an awful metallic gurgling sound that barely
sorry. Not yet, Papa.”
EIGHT: Murder [Conwell]
Her eye was a milky glaze. It looked like a pearl sunken into her eye socket. Her other socket was gaping and empty, her mangy hair covering it. Charles Lustig barely felt any pity for the blind seer as he dropped a sticky ball on a string into the can of spare change and bills. The seer barely believed him, picking up the can and rattling it to feel the weight. The seer smiled and shuffled her cards, but Charles smiled as he toyed with the string.
The seer laid the cards out, trying to give his past, present, and future to the paying customer. Past: The Barren Field. The seer murmurs something about a troubled childhood. A desire never quenched. Present: The Two Headed Snake. The Seer speaks of putting on a facade, of hiding Charles’ true self to deceive those around him of his intentions. Charles has had enough.
Standing in a huff, Charles exclaimed the seer a charlatan. Using his loud voice to embarrass and take the blind seer off guard, Charles yanked the string. The sticky ball now filled with coins and some small bills was yanked into his hand effortlessly. A large smile on his face, Charles exclaims if she can’t get his past and present right, there’s no point staying for the future. He storms off, calling her an old crow.
The seer is silent. Narrowing her eye and furrowing her brow she flips the final card. The Crows.
Charles was already continuing down the catwalk. He peered around him. A surprisingly quiet day for Conwell. Far below he could see the chasm waiting to eat the entire city. He walked slowly counting and pocketing his haul for the day. He had tricked two merchants and three homeless. However, this catch with the sticky ball was the best yet.
Turning a corner, he froze. A lone crow was at the end of the alleyway. Its feathers were matted and its eyes were creepily milky against its jet black feathers. It seemed to eye him and caw out.
Charles shivered. Birds freaked him out. Looking up, he noticed a few more flying in the sky. One of the animal merchants must have lost control of the crow exhibit.
Turning around, Charles found a staircase leading to a lower catwalk. Figuring he would escape the prying eyes from above, he hurried down it and continue smiling as he counted his cash.
Wings fluttered next to him. Charles frowned, peering back at four sets of milky eyes. More crows gazing at him with their pearl eyes. He turned to go back up the stairs but was almost blown back by a large gust of wind. A loud caw ripped through the silent air and his heart was racing.
Gazing up the stairs all he could spot were two more crows peering down. He had thought he saw a massive flying creature. He gazed around. Crows appeared from everywhere. Their eyes standing out as they stared him down. Charles tried to talk himself down, but his heart rate was rising as he counted the birds.
Almost running down the catwalk, he avoided the crows, trying to find a way up. Zig zagging from catwalk to catwalk, he felt like the crows were multiplying.
Reaching another staircase, he saw it covered in birds. He shifted nervously, deciding to attempt an ascent. As he approached the crows became more agitated, cawing and screeching at him. Trying to take a step, a crow lunged at his leg. He jumped back.
A crow flew up on the railing of the catwalk next to him. It pecked at his shoulder and arm. Charles recoiled, crying out. Looking around, Charles saw all the crows were now agitated. Cawing and screeching at him. Some even took close, circling between the catwalks and buildings. Even in some of the houses, crows were attempting to peck their way out.
“The hell is going on here?” spat Charles, his eyes wide. He hated crows.
Stepping onto the railing, Charles leapt to the lower Catwalk, flying through crows and covering his face from pecks. Before landing, he thought he saw it again. An incredibly large black bird speeding through the air just inches from him.
Landing, Charles looked around frantically for the large bird. It was bigger than he was. All around him crows perched and screeched. Pushing him further and further back. Charles tried to run, just trying to find an out. Birds were everywhere he went.
He reached the end of a catwalk, hanging over the abyss below the chasm. He removed his coat, desperately trying to swish it back and forth, pushing back the crows as they screeched.
That’s when he heard the swooshing. Turning around, Charles’ heart stopped. A massive crow was beating its wings towards him. The feathers were matted. The talons were long and bloody. It had only a single Eye. Milky. Pearl like. Its screech was more like a roar.
Charles barely had the time to cry out for help as the large talons seized him roughly and tore him from his footing. As the iron grip enclosed around him, Charles was forced to watch as Conwell disappeared below him. Nothing was between him and a nightmarish drop into the canyon.
As the talons began to press into his body, he was deafened by the sound of the wind. The mighty shriek of the crow drowned out his screams as he was carried away.
FOUR: Bail Out [Sainte Minan]
A metallic taste was in his mouth. Ian awoke from his haze. His head throbbed. Looking around he couldn’t see much. It seemed dark. His tongue moved in his mouth. Sticky blood could be felt everywhere, and he was missing a handful of his teeth.
One of his eyes were swollen shut, and the other was blurry for a little while. He tried to stand, but he couldn’t. He was strapped to some sort of metal chair. His chest and head were lashed to the back. His head seemed to be in a cage.
In his left hand on the arm rest seemed to be four coins of various sizes. In the right was a string. Looking at the string, he saw “Pull Me”.
“H-Hello?” said Ian, the blood in his mouth crackling and breaking with the effort, “Hello? Hello?”
He struggled in his bonds. He was locked tight. His heart began to race as he looked across the room. There appeared to be a contraption ahead of him. He could see a long, pointed object across the room. His eye darted around, trying to see a way out. Looking down at the string, he contemplated his choices.
Giving it a light tug, somewhere he heard a pin be released. A series of clinks and ratchet sounds could be heard until into his vision a ball rolling on a track was seen. It set off a series of spinners, sparking and lighting some lamps around the room. At the end of its journey it hit a phonograph, which let go of the crank and it began to spin. The needle fell, falling on the wax cylinder and sound began to be played around the room.
“Good day to you, Mr. Huxley,” came a cigar torn voice, harshly hurting his ears, “I’m glad you lived to make it this far. How do you like your new room?”
Ian recognized the voice immediately. Pluto! That thug of a loan shark.
“I am a very generous man with my money, Mr. Huxley. And I work hard to ensure people don’t take advantage of my kindness. You owe me a lot of money you dirty Slot Slacker. You think you can just gamble away that much moola and it wouldn’t be missed?”
“Pluto, please!” cried Ian.
“So, I got an all or nothing gamble for you, Ian, because I dos what I do. I am a very good man,” went the recording, “In your left hand are the coins, Huxley. The very same coins your sorry ass walked into my den and tried to turn into millions. These coins are going to set you free in one. Last. Game.”
Tears began to stream down Ian’s face. He clutched the coins, feeling around to see if he was right.
“In front of you is an ancient siege weapon called a ballista or something. It was used to shoot long spears at people far away. Back in ancient times of this country, gamblers who wasted their fortunes and all other fortunes without thinking of the consequences were put on spears and dangled out front banks and gambling dens as warnings!”
Ian’s heart stopped. He studied the long, pointing thing facing him, making out the spearhead and the giant crossbow in the new light provided. His mind jumped back to the gambling den. The skeletons and mummified bodies adorning the walls. He thought they were decoration!
“On the floor in front of you is a scale. Now, your two lightest coins or the big ol' coin there? They’ll set off the trigger and shish kebab your useless excuse for a body! However,” continued the recording as Ian’s eyes scanned the floor, “In the center is a hole, big enough for the coins to fit through. Below that hole is another scale, which will cut you free with the weight of two of any coin, and you’re free to go. Be careful, though. Hitting the scale with your feet, your blood, or missing with coins will only serve to ensure you… get the point.
“Either way, Huxley. You step foot in my den again, and it’ll be on the end of a spear.”
Ian picked up a coin in his hand. He looked down at it and tried to see the hole in the scale at his feet. He couldn’t drop it in or toss it. How could he get it in there? Feeling the weight of the coin, he decided the only way this was meant to work was to flip it. His blood turned to ice as he thought of what to do.
“Good luck.” Said the voice. And the recording went silent as the needle finished playing. Hot angry tears filled Ian's eyes and he let out a scream. Never has a coin felt heavier.
THREE: Nyctophobia [Hiemskog]
I don’t know what
happened to the pillows…it’s just white. White everywhere. And ice. I need to get
up because I must have dropped the pipe somewhere, and if I lose it…
But the snow is purple and the
sky is too red. Not enough time.
I stand up but I can’t tell where
I am. Where’s the house? Where is Annie? I need to get inside. Not safe. It’s
too open here.
Shadows are growing on either
side of me, even my own one twisting into a grotesque figure against the sleek icy
I run, but there is nothing to
run to. Where are the houses? Everything is ice and slush.
the sun will be gone, and I will be alone. Don’t
leave me. Keep running. Away from the Shadows now biting at my ankles like Hounds.
I chase the dying red light to the horizon, pleading as the Shadows claw at my
Stars are starting to come out. They laugh at me with glinting eyes.
It doesn’t take long for one the
shadows to pull me down into the slush. It’s so cold that it burns. Icy water
pools into my ears just like the indigo bleeding into the sky. More and more Stars
She’s coming. They tell me. Any
The Hounds leave. It’s almost completely
dark now, and she is calling them back to Her.
I try to crawl away but there are
hands in the slush. So many hands pulling me back down. A thousand slimy grey hands with blackened
fingernails, grasping at my neck and my hair and pulling at my skin too hard. I'm pulled further and further into the slush. I am drowning in slush and in suffocating under the pulling hands.
I shout, but there’s nobody to
hear me. Just Her. Black and eternal and
I can’t see Her, because there’s
blood in my eyes now. Mine? I can feel her claws rip through my flesh, it feels
like the ice: hot and cold at the same time.
The slimy grey hands that hold me
down, they belong to thousands of her Demons. I can hear them beneath me.
Desperate hisses and growls.
My whole life I’ve avoided them. Fought the Night for
years. And for more years still – the Darkness— She has been waiting. And she is hungry.
SIX: Iron Cask [???]
It couldn’t be right. There’s no way he just said Brother Hercules. My head rose from my prayer stance, confusion must’ve shown on my face. The priest was staring down at me. His eyes cold and saddened. I don’t think the realization set in until Brother Harold and Brother Orion flanked me at either side, their large muscles lifting me from my kneeling position on my pillow so I was standing.
“No, Father,” I said, but I was forcefully pushed to the center aisle before being led forward, “There must be a mistake. I have been only faithful!”
“I beg of you, Brother,” said the priest, Father Chavez, “Please don’t break our hearts further.”
“Please, you old coot. You can’t!,” I said, my eyes darting around the room.
However, it had already begun. The chant rose, low and dull. It filled the chamber like the ringing of a gong. I could see the fire pit spitting its angry flames up into the room. However, my eyes fell upon the Cask.
Being lifted onto the altar was a large, steel sarcophagus with holes punched along its body, just large enough for a single human. It split in two, opening down the center. The metal frame was discolored and sometimes warped by years of being held above flames. It was carried up by four, struggling monks. We called it the Cask.
I realized what was happening. I violently fought against my captors, but to no avail. I couldn’t believe these nuts were actually going to do this. Crying out for mercy and understanding only got me from my spot in the room to halfway down the aisle. I began to get scared, angry even. I glared at the robed fools.
Father Chavez refused to speak of it, however. His eyes held tears as he watched them open the cask and shove me in. I struggled against all six of them. I could feel the heat in my eyes as tears, practically boiling, streamed down my face.
“For questioning our lord and our faith a follower would be cast out,” cried out Father Chavez, “But this Brotherhood is held to a higher standard, and we cannot allow Brother Hercules’ infectious whispers to rot the flock with the doubts of the wicked.”
“You fools,” I screamed, fighting as the iron doors were pushed against me, “You can’t do this. I’m a human being. This isn’t real. Stop praying to a stone and help me. You’re murdering me. You are murdering a person!”
I don’t remember the rest. I was trying to calm my mind and beat against the steel. I could barely move my arms, which had been pinned to my chest when the doors shut. I could feel the jagged edges of the circular hole on my back. The Cask was lifted up once more, with me inside it.
I couldn’t see past my tears, but I pleaded. I had only voiced my doubts. I never wanted anything more but to earn Priesthood. I was a geologist before this. I was shocked it was all over some dumb stone! This was a nightmare turned reality as I could feel the heat of the fire pit.
At first, they held the Cask over the pit. I had only see this once before, and it had felt like it took ages to get through the prayer. But my voice hadn’t even turned hoarse before the monks let go, and all at once I was cast into flames.
I have never screamed so hard in my life. At first I could feel the skin bubbling only on my back, but then the very Cask itself began to feel like an oven. I felt the air in my very lungs burning me from the inside. I tried closing my eyes to it, but the light was blinding.
The hum of the chanting monks never stopped, like a dull hum to my screaming harmony. I remember feeling cheated. It felt like ages, that prayer, and people died in moments. Their screams haunting your dreams for weeks. I felt like I burned for hours.
When I finally stopped feeling and my lungs stops giving me strength to scream, I felt I had become the flames. I knew them better then the very monks I called Brothers. For, to me, the flames and I had been together for an eternity.
FIVE: Babul'yeza [Zemlani Village]
The barrel of the pistol was hot against Jacob's skin, even through the thin fabric of his shirt as he sped down the muddy path, avoiding where the tree roots had erupted into the path.
Just get to the docks.
He stole a glance behind him. The commotion had begun in his wake, and a large crowd was racing after him, led by a young Vibranni man with dark red blood --not his own-- streaked along the purple skin of his jaw and across his shirt.
Jacob wrenched a coin purse from his pocket, drenched in the very same blood. It was still warm. Ahead of him there was an air-boat at the closest dock. He thrust the purse at the man who was turning the crank at the back of the boat, readying the propeller.
“Take me wherever y’re goin’” Jacob said gruffly, getting onto the flat-bottomed boat. He waited impatiently for the owner to board, watching the angry crowd closing in. Slowly, too slowly, the boat began to pull away from the dock. He couldn’t believe his luck as the crowd stopped suddenly along the shore of the river, as though there was an invisible wall between them and the docks. The Vibranni man stopped too, turning pale, but his lips thinned into something like a smirk.
“Thanks, man," Jacob said to the boatman, "seem to have gotten m’self into quite a mess -- but no way I’s gonna let that cheatin’ demon bitch take my money…” As Jacob turned, he realized that the boater wasn’t there. The fan wasn’t running. But the peddles of the steering seat seemed to be spinning on their own.
His eyes darted back toward the dock, but the only thing he could see was the fog rising from the river, denser than usual, illuminated by the moon. At least he thought it was the moon, but as the boat propelled him further into the swampy river, he realized that light came from below. A chill scuttled up Jacob’s spine as he peered over the edge of the boat.
A faint green glow struggled to shine through the thick weeds beneath the surface...at least they’d looked like weeds, at first. The longer he gazed into the river, the silhouettes took human-like forms as they drifted against the current. They were whispering too. It sounded like the regular babbling of a river but he could hear the shrill moans of the drowning spectres below him. The sound turned Jacob’s boiling blood to ice. His anger slowly strangled out of him by fear, as the river began to bubble. It felt like he was surrounded by flames rather than mist.
Panicking, Jacob hurried back to the pedals, now spinning so fast they were merely a blur of wood and brass. He grabbed at them, hoping to reverse them and take the boat back to the village. It didn’t work, but he managed to snap off one of the pedals and wedged it between the floor and the second pedal. The boat stopped, jolting Jacob roughly backward across the boat. The river continued to boil around him, the moaning got louder, the light below him brighter and greener... except for a long shadow was cast over him from behind. The boat began to move again, but this time the pedals were not turning. Jacob felt a blistering hot hand on his shoulder; He jerked away and spun around to face whatever the hand belong to.
The woman was tall and horrifically gaunt. Her thin, wrinkled skin was a grey-tinged lavender, and he could see pointed ears through her long black hair and a tail peeking through her dark dress. She was a foot higher than the tallest Alpha that Jacob had ever seen. She peered down at him through sunken eyes.
“W-Who are you?” Jacob asked, he voice hardly even a whisper. The acrid fog saturated his lungs.
“As your angry blood boiled in your veins, so did the river boil and summon Me to you.” She shouted.
Only then did he notice that the moaning from the water had crescendoed to shrill, howling screams. She stepped closer to him as she continued, “You dare to spill the innocent blood of one of my daughters...and now you must answer to Me, like other men before you who poisoned my village with your petty fury. You must pay.”
“P-pay?” Jacob stuttered. “What’s your p-price? I’ll pay anything, just g-git me out o’ here!”
The howling turned to deafening pressure building painfully in his ears. She'd backed him to the edge of the boat, and as he neared the edge, she reached down a long, bony hand and wrapped it around his neck, pulling him up so far his feet dangled. He felt his skin sizzle beneath her touch. As she brought her face close, and he felt the pressure spread down from his ears through his whole body.
Where the woman’s mouth had been, there was now only gaping black void. Her face came closer and closer, as though she were about to kiss him, and he felt as though she was pulling something from deep inside him, something that didn’t want to come out. The pain was unbearable -- white-hot flames and jagged glass. Her face was so close now that all he saw was her eyes -- yellowed and bloodshot, and in her pupils he saw his own face reflected, covered in burns, screaming in agony...