The Cost V

The squire’s sword moved, swinging in a high arc towards the man’s face.

Fairchild tucked the book under his arm, and casually caught the blade in his left hand.

A burst of light. Jonas saw a bone-thin hand with too-long fingers holding his blade. The skin was green and smooth — or did it only appear so in the emerald corpse illumination?

The flash was gone. The man pushed the squire’s blade aside.

“Now, now.” the man smiled. “No need to be so forward.  There will be plenty of time later for that sort of thing. Now, have a seat, young

Artist - Daniel Danger

man.”

Jonas felt his knees buckle, and his knuckles hit the marble floor. He still clutched the hilt of his good steel, but it felt heavier than a millstone.

Fairchild sat calmly on the pile of corpses, and pulled the book into his lap. He drummed his fingers on it for a moment.

“I knew someone would come, but I didn’t know who. A hero? A prince?  Who are you, son of Gilead?”

Jonas said nothing.  He tried to move, but his arms and legs refused.

“I suppose it doesn’t matter.”, the smiling man mused. “You are the one who was promised. You will be my hunter.”

I will be nothing for you, the squire thought. I will find a way to make you pay.

“Oho! Your mortal eyes blaze so fiercely. It must be hard.” Fairchild said sympathetically. “To crawl on your belly through the ruin of your home — to find all that you knew destroyed. Everyone you ever knew. Dead. How you must thirst for vengeance….”

The tip of his sword blade moved a quiet inch. Jonas focused on the feel of the hilt in his hands, and tried to make the sword move again. He kept his eyes on the smiling man, on his green throne.

Fairchild clapped his hands.

“Enough of that. It is time to speak, you and I. I must pull you from thoughts of the past, so let us speak simply. Yes, it was I that did all that you have seen. Every living creature in the land of Gilead is dead. Dead and worse, by my hands.”

Jonas saw the  man’s hands change — fingers too long, and green, green, green.  The squire choked with horror and grief.

” Well, not quite.” Fairchild leaned forward. “There is one survivor. Would you like to see her?”

The squire nodded, and fought back tears. And managed to move the sword tip another quiet inch.

The man who was not turned slightly, and pushed the arm of a corpse aside. Nestled within was a small, cloth bundle. It moved slightly as Fairchild pulled it free, and then it began to cry.

A baby, held in a prison of green spider-hands.

Fairchild held it forth, and smiled.

“Now, let us talk about the terms of our covenant.”

The Cost IV

Jonas blinked his eyes, faster and faster – forcing them to adjust to the violently green illumination.

A pile of corpses was stacked in the center of the room, a reeking bonfire. The green light poured out of dead mouth after dead mouth, twisting and coalescing into a blaze in the center of the room.

The squire heard the knife-laughter again, and a man stepped into view. He was dressed in simple black garments, and was flipping through a book idly.

The man seemed to flicker between the gaps of flame.  Jonas saw glimpses of something tall and gaunt, skin stretched across bones.

Jonas gasped and pulled his sword up.

The man smiled, and the squire’s blood turned to water. Jonas felt sweat pour down his face – a fever burned. The smiling man was wearing iron shoes, and Jonas remembered the blind priest’s words.

“Why, hello young man.” the thing who was not a man said. ” I’ve been waiting for you. ”

“My name is Fairchild.” the smile said.

 

The Cost III

The wide hall was silent.

Each door that the squire passed was flung open, green corpse light gleaming.

A group of dead children and their governess, chests and lips covered with yellow vomit. They were laid out in a perfect circle, feet to the center.  A basket of apples placed at the center.

By Rudrik.

Three men dressed as nobles slumped around a silver table.  One man’s arm had been cruelly spiked to the table,  the flesh and bone laid bare. Golden forks and knives were still clutched in all three’s hands – gibbets of meat hung from all three’s lips.

The green doorways opened their arms, as Jonas began to move faster.

A fat man that brained himself against a stone ledge.

A room stacked high with furniture, dressers and bureaus pulled in close. A thick stench rose from the center of the barricade.

Two skeletons huddled in the ashes of a massive marble fireplace, hands still clasped.

Jonas found broad stairs, and climbed.

He kept his eyes on the steps ahead, and forced his wounded leg to move faster.

The final step caught him unawares, and he stumbled forward. His shoulder screamed as he crashed into a stone pillar. He leaned against it for a moment and caught his breath.

He heard laughter, and jerked his head up.

The wide doors were twenty feet high and enameled with steel and silver. They were slightly open, and the sound of brittle glass-laughter came from within. The green light was brighter here, forcing him to squint as he stared at the crack between the doors.

Jonas took a step towards the door, then stopped. He passed his sword from hand to hand for a moment, wiping the sweat of his palms on his sodden trousers.

Glass-laughter, knife-laughter – the laughter of breaking. It sounded again, and the squire found himself backing up slowly from the door.

He leaned his head forward, shaggy hair fallling forward. He gripped the hilt of his sword , each knuckle a sickly yellow-white.

Too far. Too far to turn back now. I must know what happened here, I must.

Jonas of Gilead stepped through the silver doors.

The Cost II

Jonas closed the door behind him, the sound of rain hushed.

The grand entryway was covered with mushrooms. Sickly, purple and pulsing slightly – as if each bulb was taking a slow breath.

The green light bloomed from a pair of corpses sprawled on the marble stair. A pair of guards. The squire moved towards them, but then stopped. He didn’t want to know. Didn’t want to find the faces of old friends rotting on the steps. The light seemed to pour out of the vicious wounds on their neck and back, like an echo of blood, burning green and merry.

Jonas kicked the mushrooms aside in disgust and made his way up the steps.

At the top of the stair, a hand print had been charred into the wooden door. The squire placed his own hand next to it, to compare. The other hand  was thinner, long fingers splayed.

Is this the devil? Luthen’s devil?

The squire wiped the water out of his face, and entered the hall.

The Cost

Jonas landed hard on the stones of the parade ground, blood seeping from the deep gash in his leg. He retied the crude bandage, and forced himself to stand.

The rain fell.

The church was hours ago. It felt like weeks ago.

He had passed through the wet night, the sudden slide of cobblestone and slate roofs. A brace of once-men has surprised him in a narrow alleyway. His sword had prevailed, but one of the dark things had left the bleeding wound on his leg.

Now, at last he had pulled himself over the stone walls of the castle. An abandoned hay cart had provided a suitable ladder.

The windows of the castle blazed with green light. The same green light that filled the empty eye sockets of the dead of Gilead.

Jonas laid one chilled hand on the hilt of his sword.  He pulled the good steel free, and stepped carefully through the open gates of the castle.

[This piece continues the tale of Another Story.]

The Stadium

Clack. Ka-chunk. Clack. Ka-chunk.

The subway stank. Yellow plastic, scrubbed by rot and ignorant crustaceans.

Clack. Ka-chunk. Clack. Ka-chunk.

George looked out the window, the stone walls and blips of color a gray river.

His suit had been nice once, the red tie brighter and well pressed.  Now the shirt was stained at the cuffs, the elbows of the jacket patched with the wrong shade of black thread. His hair was thin, and his face lined.

The subway emerged onto a wide trestle, and he could see it.

The stadium. Four spotlights waved, yellow, white, green and blue.

He pressed his forehead against the glass, and closed his eyes for a moment. He could smell the grass.

George sighed, and leaned back. He brought a hand to his collar, and ran a finger around the silver collar at his neck.

He had been Shackled for years — but he never forgot that he was wearing it. Not once. Not even for a moment.

George dug into the white cup of boiled peanuts, and fished around for a large one.  He pulled out one that suited, and popped it into his mouth. He looked at the stadium again.

Placing the cup between his legs, George stared at his right hand – at his fingers. He covered it with his left, like a lighter in the wind.  He pushed his eyes close to the little cave of his fingers.

George snapped. The barest wisp of green sparks popped to life at the end of his fingers.

He leaned back against the seat. He closed his eyes, and smelled the grass of the stadium.

Door-knob.

“Something there is  to a task done well, a true task, a right task. The door-knob turns, and knows that is is doing exactly what it was made for.”

“Are you drunk?” Simon asked, waggling his empty wooden tankard.

Merridew glared across the table, bushy white eyebrows standing at attention. The elderly Yad-Elf

Artist Unknown

gripped a silver gravy-boat, clearly intended to sail the seas of a king’s banquet table. It was mostly empty, Merridew corrected this – refilling from a dark brown keg that kept the third chair occupied.  He took a quick swallow from the business end of the container, all while continuing to glare at the gray-coated rogue sitting across from him.

“Cause you sound drunk. You’re talking about doorknobs. Knobs on doors – the little turny things.” Simon continued.

“That is not my point at all, you besotted simpleton. This is why I despise drinking with humans.” the elf said.

“I’m drunk. See? I said it. Feels good to say it. It is totally fine for you to admit that you’re drunk.” the rogue held his tankard to the keg, hand wavering.

Merridew sat the gravy-boat down, and massaged his temples with long, knobby fingers.

“I’m just saying that doorknobs have a clear purpose. A design suited for one action — and I was musing –”

Simon burped.

“– MUSING that it has to be a nice feeling. Knowing that what you’re doing is exactly what you’re supposed to be doing.” Merridew pointed across the table accusingly

The rogue chuckled, and sipped from his newly filled tankard. He managed to look contrite, and nodded seriously at the elf’s expression.

The old wood elf sighed, and spread his fingers across the top of the gravy-boat. He stared down through the spaces between, watching the foam settle on the dark amber liquid.

“There’s been a few times, I’ve felt it myself. The door-knob turn in my heart.”

Simon continued to nod seriously, and made a twisting gesture with his free hand. His serious expression was marred by the slurping noise as he gulped down ale.

“Door-knob. Got it.” Simon slammed the empty tankard down.

“I hate you.” Merridew said.

The old elf stood, and walked over to the closest door. He poured a generous serving of ale onto the pitted brass doorknob. Then he kept pouring until the gravy-boat was empty. He solemnly hung the empty silver bowl on the knob.

Simon rubbed his face and snorted.

“I’ll get a mop, old man. Unless you want to baptize the lamps?”

Merridew did not reply. He wrapped his long fingers around the brass knob and turned it swiftly.

Once. Twice. A third time.

The old elf smiled, his fingertips resting on the brass.