The Jade Court Part VII – Submission

“Pardon the intrusion Mistress.” Tan Son Shu knelt outside the door, sliding the rice paper covered panel aside a few centimeters.

“Son Shu, you are a welcome intrusion.” Sai’Li said, “Come and have some sake with me.”

“Mistress, there is a man who claims to be from one of the Houses.”  He said, still kneeling.  “He wishes to respond to an offer?”

She moved a hand slightly and a black pearl the size of her thumb rolled from her sleeve.  Even as it stopped rolling, it swelled into a glistening black spider the size of a Labrador and silently skittered out of the open window.  Son Shu felt cold sweat break out on his forehead.

Sai’Li poured sake into a pair of beautifully lacquered cups and reclined on her couch, running her hands though the tiger’s fur that lay next to his own large dish of liquor.  Her kimono was loose, showing the alabaster white of her legs all the way above her knees and parts of an intricate tattoo coming over her left shoulder.

“Come drink with us Son Shu.”  She said with a smile, “Our guest will join us shortly.”

Not being able to ignore a direct command, he came and knelt at the low table.  Lifting the cup, he took a sip and savored the exquisite taste.  Sai’Li packed her kiseru with tobacco and struck a match, lighting it and exhaling a cloud of fragrant smoke.  Son Shu found it easier to relax than he had anticipated, his mistress’s easy manner was infectious.

The elevator chimed and Son Shu looked to his mistress.  She inclined her head and he went to the door.  “Please master Yashida, won’t you join us for a drink?” He asked, sliding the door aside.

Tanaka was wearing a rumpled black suit and had an unlit cigarette clamped between his lips.  Son Shu extended a lighter on reflex and Tanaka seemed to respond on reflex as well, leaning in to light his cigarette and bowing slightly to Sai’Li.

“Lady.  Circumstances have caused me to reconsider your offer of patronage.”  He said, stepping into the room.

“Please Tanaka, come and have sake with us.”  Sai’Li said, “Let us discuss whatever troubles you.  But I insist that you drink with me.  I find sake to ease difficult conversations.”

He hesitated, but removed his shoes and came to kneel at the table.  Sai’Li herself poured him a cup of sake.  She waited for him to settle, taking the opportunity to refill her pipe.

“I find myself in need of assistance.”  He began, “I am not certain what made me think you could offer it, but I had the idea that your offer of protection was genuine.”

“Indeed.”  She said, exhaling smoke from her nostrils in curling trails.  “I do not make promises lightly Tanaka Yashida, nor do I take them lightly.  What promise are you making?”

Tanaka backed from the table and bowed from a kneeling positon, pressing his forehead to the floor. “If you can save my people, I swear fealty to you Lady.  My blood shall be spilled at your whim.  My life spent at your desire.”

“I do not spend the lives of those who swear themselves to me without cause.” Sai’Li said, “Although I must confess that blood may be a significant motivator.  Do you promise me your blood?”

“I do.” He said without hesitation.

Sai’Li shivered and licked her lips.  Tanaka noted that her canine teeth had grown long and sharp.  “I claim you and your clan once more as mine.  This pact shall be sealed in the old way, the ancient way.  My way.”

“If it will help my people, I consent.” He said, “Please hurry.”

“In this matter, I shall take my time.”  Said Sai’Li, she stood and swayed across the room, eyes smoldering.  “You have my word that no more harm shall come to what is MINE.”  At this last word, her eyes turned blood red

Her mouth opened wide and he saw those elongated fangs descending on his throat.  He wasn’t just powerless to resist, he wanted to feel them pierce his skin.  Tanaka Yashida lost himself in the terror of his new Lady’s kiss.

Halloween Promotion!

Good day my wonderful readers, I’m writing a quick blurb to let you know that today and today only, my horror novel The After-Death is free to download from smashwords!  It’s Halloween after all, my favorite holiday and what better way to celebrate than by giving my loyal fans a treat?  To claim your prize, download the book here  and enter coupon code BR73V on checkout.  Hey, if you want, you can buy my other books while you’re there too; your patronage is most appreciated.

Here is my annual Halloween blessing.

Once more I do indeed wish thee and thine a most blessed Samhain eve. May the dead dance for you once again. May their songs sing you into another year. Burn the sage and drink the wormwood over the aquamarine. The veil is at its thinnest. Revel in the merriment of the deceased as they send to you their joy, wisdom and strength.

Terevelen finds his heart’s desire

Taking a break from The Callindra Chronicles this week for a spooky story; it is approaching Halloween after all.  I played this character for a very brief time before the Dungeon Master and I had irreconcilable differences revolving around me asking questions, trying to play the character I chose with the skills his class and race gave him, and having the audacity to actually give feedback when he asked for it.  What cheek!  Anyway, the character in question ended up running from a fight and the DM’s refusal to allow me to in any reasonable way rejoin the party or return to safety I instead decided to leave the game and wrote this as my character’s exit.  I hope you enjoy.

~

The others rushed into combat, but something plucked at Terevelen’s vision.  No, not at his vision but at his intuition.  It was almost like a siren song, the seductive thread of arcane power calling to his Mage’s Sight.  The shouts and screams of the others faded from his attention as he incanted a spell.  Motes of light barely visible from where they were encapsulated inside bubbles of darkness.  This was energy he had only seen once or twice before, and it was forbidden power.

Walking almost in a trance, he followed the trail, watching as the motes became threads and the threads became tendrils and the tendrils led to something more.  The power was weak, but the allure was irresistible.  Terevelen stood before a hill with toppled stones that were once a grand archway.  The capstone sealing the entrance was long since smashed and time had worn away the runic carvings that had once covered it.

With trembling fingers, the Elf pushed the tall grass and weeds aside.  The air that breathed from the opening smelled of earth and mold, decay and faintly of death.  He was frightened and more than a little disgusted by the thought of entering a tomb, nonetheless Terevelen shivered and crawled beneath the fallen archway.

The crypt was small and anything of value had long since been pilfered by thieves or destroyed by the ravages of time.  Gold and gems had been prized from the walls and from the lid of the sarcophagus.  A stone slab had the remains of a parchment that had likely once been proudly displayed under glass but was now reduced to moldering dust.

The remains of a human corpse were scattered from looters removing what were likely richly embroidered robes, but the dark aura of forbidden power he had been sensing emanated from those bones.  It would be a laborious process, but Terevelen felt a need to re-assemble the skeleton.  Sitting down to concentrate, he began to gently shift one bone at a time, moving them back where they belonged.

He never noticed when the runes along the walls lit up.  He never noticed when the stones shifted back into place, cutting off all light.  Absorbed in his work, Terevelen forgot to eat or drink and after a time found he did not miss it.  All that mattered was this.  Humming to himself, he looked at his new body in satisfaction, briefly admiring the intricate tracework of black threads that crisscrossed his emaciated frame.

“Time.”  He whispered in his dry, broken voice.  “All I have is time now.  Time is all I need.  All the time is mine.”

A Girl Walks Into a Bar Part 3

Sergei turned and saw a man in an impeccable suit, a fedora, dark sunglasses and carrying a cane swaggered through the door.  The locked door.  Around him, shadows gathered and flickered as though there was a campfire burning on every side of him.

“I fear the young lady has misled you.”  His voice was smooth and urbane.  “What she has taken cannot be returned without proper recompense.”

“Excuse me friend, but the bar is closed.”  Sergei asked, feeling somehow less intimidated than he thought he would.

“Yes.  How fortunate for me that there will be nobody to see.  Nobody to stop what must be done.”  Ethad said, his voice still silky smooth and calm.

“You won it in a game correct?”  Sergei asked with a smile.  “Well then I challenge you.”

“What do you wager?”  Ethad asked, pulling out a chair and sitting at one of the tables.  He pulled a long thin cigar from an inner pocket and bit off the tip before lighting it with an old fashioned strike anywhere match.

“My bar.”  Sergei said, “It’s my life’s work.”

“That’s an interesting offer, however I don’t need real estate.”  Ethad said, blowing a smoke ring.  “I’m thinking of something a little more valuable.  After all, what the young lady has stolen is worth more than you can imagine.”

“What did she steal?”  He asked, “I never was clear on that.”

“It does not matter to you.”  Ethad said, “But if you must know, she stole knowledge.”

“What do you want me to bet then?”  Sergei asked, “And what game will we play?”

“To keep it interesting, we will play a game that matches your abilities.  Since you own a bar, we shall play a drinking game.”  Ethad took off his sunglasses and where his eyes should be was nothing but pits of utter darkness.  “You shall bet your immortal soul of course.”

Sergei swallowed hard, but a glance over his shoulder showed Corva’s large frightened eyes and his spine stiffened.  “Is that all?  I’m pretty sure that’s long gone to many a vice or broken promise.”  He moved to the bar and took the half full bottle of Laphroig down along with two glasses.

He sat down across from his opponent and poured them each a shot.  Something settled over him; a power with a force beyond his imagination.  The pact had been made.  The stage was set.  What had he gotten himself into?  Still, his blood boiled with excitement.  He had never felt so alive.

“The game is an old one.   It is called by many different names, but I call it Flip.”  Ethad smiled and withdrew an old belt dagger from a sheath beneath his suit coat.  The weapon was worn, but obviously well cared for.  The edge glittered wickedly.

Sergei raised an eyebrow and waited, amazed that he was feeling so calm and collected.  Perhaps it was the sheer absurdity of the situation.  Maybe it was Corva’s apparent dependence on him.  More likely he’d just lost his mind.

“The game is played by flipping the blade a certain way a certain number of times and having it end by sticking point down into the wood of the table.”  Ethad said.  “If you fail to stick the blade, you must take a drink.  Every five flips you must take a drink.  The game ends when you are incapacitated or bleed to death.”

“Bleed to death?”  Sergei asked, “Why would that be an issue?”

“Some of the flips later in the game require very good aim.”  Ethad said, “Shall we begin?”

The first few flips were simple.  Held in the hand, off the back of the hand, off the thumb, off the wrist.  The blade was very sharp and Sergei did accidentally cut himself more than once, although they were more of an annoyance than anything else.  After five flips, they each drank.

Now the challenges were more difficult, but Sergei found the balance of Ethad’s blade to his liking and the game was a fun and interesting one.  Five more flips and they each took another drink.  Sergei began to sweat as the moves became harder, but he managed to stick another five and they each drank again.

“You are showing more skill than I had anticipated.”  Ethad said, “It appears the bottle is almost empty.  It has been years, decades even since I have enjoyed myself this much.”

Sergei missed the next flip, recovered and made the next three and missed the fifth.  The bottle was empty and the alcohol was beginning to cloud his dexterity.  Ethad seemed to be unaffected and flicked the point of his knife into the tabletop with almost contemptuous ease.

“I’d better get another bottle.”  Sergei said, rising unsteadily.  “We both have to drink after that last move.”

He walked to the bar and took another bottle of Laphroig.  His fingers shook as he was unwrapping the foil.  Reaching into his apron pocket he took out a tissue and wiped the sweat off his forehead and tossed it into the trash.  Picking up the bottle and a new pair of glasses he walked back to the table where Ethad sat calmly.

Sergei poured them each a shot and couldn’t help but savor the whisky as he drank it.  Even if it was bringing him ever closer to being killed.  To being worse than killed.

Ethad had tossed back his drink and picked up his knife for the next move.  A strange look crossed his face and he lost his grip on the aged wooden handle.

“What did you do to me?”  He snarled, his voice a dangerous rasp.

Sergei blinked in surprise, noting that a red flush had begun to spread from the other man’s alabaster white neck.  Ethad began to make a choking sound, each breath becoming more of a struggle.  The realization of what must have happened struck him.

The tissue.  The wood sliver.  Corva had said it was hawthorn and it had hurt her.  She was somehow the same as Ethad.

“You left some of your hawthorn in her wound.”  Sergei said, feeling a sardonic grin slide over his face.  “It must have found its way into your drink somehow.  What a shame.”

Ethad stood, his clothes bleeding and changing into a cloak with a deep cowl.  His dagger lengthened and changed, shaping itself into a wickedly sharp scythe with a handle made of the same dark wood as the knife hilt, the butt end sharpened to a needle point.

“You have forced me to shuffle off that which allows me to tread on mortal earth once again Trickster.”  The moniker rang in Sergei’s head like a silver bell.  “Your accomplice can keep the knowledge of Fire she stole.  For now.”

Death faded from view, the gleaming silver of his scythe with its handle of hawthorn being the last thing to vanish.  Sergei spun to look at Corva, and instead of a wounded girl in layers of jackets a large raven perched on the back of the chair.  She cocked her head at him, one eye deliberately winking.

“You remembered your blood in the end.”  She said, her voice sounding no different for coming from a bird’s beak.

“Just lucky.”  Sergei said, “I didn’t remember anything.”

“Blood doesn’t forget, even if you don’t remember Trickster.”  Corva replied and flew up and out the door as it opened to admit Chelsea.

“Sergei?”  She said, surprise in her voice.  “What was that wind just now?”

“Never mind the wind.”  He said, sitting down hard, but feeling the sardonic smile come back.  “Come and have a drink with me.”

~fin

A World Lost: Current Events in the City of Einn Boer

More setting the scene for a new Dungeons and Dragons game I’m going to be running soon.

Hedveig stood at the ancient rusted doorway and tried to stay awake.  The Great Gate hadn’t been opened in his lifetime or his father’s lifetime.  The rust scale on it was so thick he doubted the iron portal would even swing on its hinges anymore, even if someone did try to open it.  It was an important duty for the síðr vorðr; the Long Guard though; they had stood there for centuries, barring the way to any who would dare try and intrude on Einn Boer.

He stretched, feeling his joints crack and listening to the odd echo they made inside his armor.  As the old warrior settled back into his parade rest stance, heard the echo again.  It was coming from behind him, but was not coming from inside his armor.  Hedveig removed his helmet and put his ear to the door and he could hear a tapping sound plain as if someone had been tapping on his helmeted head.

Something was out there.  Something was trying to get in.  Hedveig pulled his long copper and bone horn from his belt and blew three measured blasts followed by two quick ones.  He continued the summons, watching for one of his fellow guardians to approach, the noise deafening him to the sounds coming from the great gate behind him.  He never heard the intruder.

When the runner arrived breathless and wild eyed, he found Hedveig laughing and joking.  Grudgingly, he admitted that his senior Guardsman had pulled one over on him and saw the humor in it.

“It’s not like you to pull something like this Hedveig.”  Reklar grumbled, giving him a wry smile, “What’s the occasion for you developing a sense of humor?”

“It’s the anniversary isn’t it?”  Hedveig said with another chuckle.  “Seven hundred years.  That’s long enough for even the memories of the less mortal races fade.

“Well, yes of course.  The festival is tomorrow.  Are you taking Bellia?”

“Probably.”  Hedveig smoothed his moustache, “You had better get back to your post.”

“Yes sir, right you are sir.”  Reklar said, snapping a smart salute.  The junior Guardsman retreated, his thoughts troubled.  Hedveig had not been acting like himself at all, and had in fact volunteered for guard duty during the festival.  For him to joke, for him to even smile on duty was unheard of.  Perhaps the old bastard had finally loosened up; but Reklar doubted it.

Lady Taryn Vaknair Torben the Third looked out over her city, feeling a glow of satisfaction despite the worry that gnawed at her.  The magic was faltering and nothing she or the Elders had tried seemed to be working.  All the symptoms pointed to the city’s Godheart dying and there didn’t seem to be any way of stopping it.

Below her balcony, the citizens gathered for the sesquicentennial, the seven hundredth anniversary of their retreat into Einn Boer.  The lights of their magic twinkled merrily as they danced, laughed, ate and drank.  They had no idea of what was truly happening, and it was imperative that they remain ignorant of it.  Order was an illusion only barely maintained by the thoughts of the people and she was well aware of that fact.

“My Lady, will you be attending the opening ceremonies?”  Londrak, her personal valet, lover, confidant and spymaster asked from the door.

“Of course I will.  You wouldn’t allow otherwise.”  She said, her voice distant.  “I am troubled Lon.  These developments and our lack of ability to remedy them frighten me.”

“The defenses are strong My Lady.”  He was holding a stylish jacket for her.  The newest fashion of ladies wearing jackets and trousers was a bit disconcerting to her at first, but sometimes it was most liberating.  When she was feeling vulnerable though, she needed the familiarity of her corset and skirts.

“Not tonight Lon.  I will wear my peach and cream gown, this being a formal occasion.”  She waved him off, “Now go away and fetch Droga.  Unless you wish to help me dress?”

Londrak grinned wolfishly, “I would be glad to help, but it seems putting these contraptions on is more difficult than removing them My Lady.  I will send her in.”

Gray crouched on an intricately carved gargoyle three stories above a square crowded with revelers.  He wasn’t so much looking for specific marks as he was watching for trends.  If enough well-off individuals were present and if they were intoxicated sufficiently he would send in the Greylings to do their business.  It was up to him to keep an eye on the ebb and flow of the crowd and choose the right time to strike.

The slightest scrape of boot on roof tile made him shift to the left.   Not enough to betray that he’d heard the noise, but just enough to give him a good throwing angle for his blades if he needed it.  Another sound identified the person attempting to sneak up on him.  He relaxed; it was only Lithia.  He could tell by the slight limp she had from a poorly healed broken ankle.

“I instructed you all to wait for my signal Lithia.”  He said in a low voice that wouldn’t carry beyond a few paces.

“Gray, we have a problem.”  She replied, not moving from the shadow of a nearby gable. “Someone has been poaching, and they’ve botched the job.”

He cursed silently to himself, “Show me.”  The last thing they needed was the Long Guard thinking his Greylings had been responsible for a murder.  They were thieves certainly and while they didn’t shrink from killing when necessary it was considered quite gauche, not to mention getting unwanted attention from Longshanks often led to someone having to be sacrificed.  Someone expendable usually, but that didn’t lessen the blow to his pride.

They slipped silently from the rooftop, shimmying down one of the building’s many carved pillars.  Homeowner’s vanity made these kinds of things easy.  The corpse wasn’t far away and it was strange.  A single circular hole in the back of the head was the only sign that any harm had come to the body.  No blood even leaked from it to stain the crisply ironed Long Guard uniform.

While he was investigating it, the body dissolved into dust.  Gray blinked in surprise, staring at the pile of dust that glowed with a slight greenish sheen.  “Well, at least we need not worry about disposing of the corpse.”  Gray muttered, “I don’t like it Greylings.  We’re leaving.  Someone get a sample of that for the Underman.”

When nobody moved, Gray spat to the side and pulled out a vial.  Scraping up a bit of the dust, he stoppered the vial and carefully placed it into his padded pouch.  “Come on you superstitious slugs, let’s get otta here before the shit starts flying.”

They slipped into the shadows, vanishing into the night, but not out of sight of a pair of glittering green eyes that watched from the windowsill.

Halloween Special: The After-Death Chapter One

Hi all!  So as a Halloween Special, I’m re-releasing my first book “The After-Death” which is a horror novel on Smashwords.  Here’s part of the first chapter, I hope you all enjoy reading it.  If you do, head on over to Smashwords and pick yourself up a copy!  As an added Halloween special, today and today only I will let you set the price.  Pay as much or as little as you want and enjoy some horror fiction on me.  Have a safe and scary All Hallows Eve.

                              -Benjamin

I forced my gritty eyelids open, expecting to see the glare of the early morning sun shining through that single crack in the curtains that I can never quite block out and was slightly surprised to find total darkness instead.  A feeling of foreboding crept over me as flashes of nightmares about being buried alive leapt to the front of my mind.

The surface I was on was hard and cold and I failed to choke down panic when extending my arms met a similar surface and trying to sit up earned me a sharp crack to the skull.  The pain brought the rational part of my brain back online and I began to explore my tiny prison.  A chill that had nothing to do with the temperature of the metal box ran down my spine… I was not able to force my chest to draw a breath.  Kicking hard with my feet slid me down against the wall which gave way slightly.

My vision was assaulted with a brilliant white light that shone through the opening, another pair of hard kicks and the shelf in the morgue where my body lay slid out fully into the harsh metal halide lighting of the room.  What happened last night?  If my body really is dead then why do I burn with the desire for vengeance, and vengeance against whom?  Looking at the stitches crisscrossing my body, and the unwholesome pallor of my skin, I decided that my primary course of action must be covering myself.  Then I would find answers if there were any to be found.

There is something decidedly disturbing about taking clothing off a dead body; even when you yourself are dead.  I cast about the room for anything else that I could possibly do, however the only other option was to cut holes in a body bag which would have drawn at least as much attention as my pale scarred flesh.  The young man whose clothes I was stealing didn’t complain despite the fact that I had to dislocate his shoulders to get his Led Zeppelin t-shirt off without tearing it apart.  It shocked me how easily I was able to do it; perhaps he had some sort of muscle weakness or joint problems.  My fingers and wrists felt stiff either from rigor mortis or maybe just from laying inside the cold steel embrace of the morgue drawer.

I had never been in a morgue before, the stark cleanliness of the stainless steel drawers and white tiled floors, walls and tables suggested either a new facility or else a very fastidious caretaker.  I decided on the latter as I surveyed the neat tidy rows of scalpels, saws, needles and even a tape recorder set out at precise distances from one another on a nearby shelf.  I felt a sudden uncomfortable pressure inside my head as though I was in an airplane making a rapid descent, as though there was a bubble behind my nose, eyes and ears pressing against them.

The pressure kept increasing at an alarming rate; I attempted to force air into my estuation tubes only to find that drawing a breath was a physical impossibility.  Afraid that my eyes would be forced from their sockets, I grabbed a steel probe from the table top and plunged it into my ear.  A burst of air and fluid shot out with enough force to leave a trail of phosphorescent vitriol from the edge of the counter to my shoulder its glow barely visible in the brightly lit room.  Before I had the chance to study the strange glowing purplish green substance I suddenly became aware of voices and the sound of footsteps so close I was astounded that I hadn’t heard them before.

“-omething in the water or maybe an infection or some airborne agent.  I can’t wait for the next episode, seriously I was so pissed off when it was over.”

“Yeah and Fox will probably cancel it just like they have every other decent show.  I wonder what they have against making money.”

A sudden burst of adrenaline startled me, I drew a ragged breath and my heart suddenly thundered in my chest.  A pair of middle aged men dressed in white clothes walked into the room.  “What the hell are you doing in here?  This is a restricted area; you aren’t supposed to be here.  Are you one of those weirdoes who gets off on touching dead people?”  I backed up against the counter and grabbed the first thing my hand touched; the microcassette recorder.

“Gentlemen, I’m with the World News Daily paper and I’m looking to dig up a story on just such a subject, can either of you comment?”  I was shooting from the hip, desperate to distract them long enough to get out the door.  I held the small tape recorder in my hand out in front of my body like it was a weapon “I’ve heard there were some instances of necrophilia in this morgue, I promise I won’t mention your names.”

“My wife reads that shit God only knows why… get the fuck out before we throw you out.  We could lose our jobs just by you being in here!”

Needing no encouragement, I walked out of the room as fast as I could without, hopefully appearing any stranger of a spectacle than I imagined myself being.  I would ponder the sudden flush of life that was rapidly fading from my system later when I felt safe.

I broke into a run the moment I was out of view of the morgue attendants. I had to get out of this place and fast. There was too much I didn’t understand, I needed some time to figure it all out or at least get a handle on my body. What was with me suddenly starting to breathe and my heart beginning to beat again? Why did it stop? I stepped through a door and found myself in a busy hospital emergency room. It was easy to avoid notice in all the commotion even though my lungs no longer functioned and heart had ceased to beat once again. Once outside I ran blindly, taking advantage of not needing to breathe until I reached a park that seemed more or less deserted. As I slowed to a walk an old man approached me

“Spare some change youngster?” I dug in my pockets, surprised to find a couple dollars which I proffered to him. “I’ll take whatever you have in your wallet too.” he said lifting his other hand to show a knife with a wicked looking edge. Considering all that had happened I tried to laugh, all that came out was low groan. Suddenly fear blossomed on his face and he backed away slowly “Just a joke, you understand just a joke! Here take it back, I don’t need it!”

He dropped the money I had given him and the knife, took a few stumbling backward steps then turned and sprinted away. I sat down with my back to a large tree. The look in the old man’s eyes had been one of fear growing into stark terror. What was I becoming and what did he see that frightened him so much? The answer became clear to me as the sun began to set. I could see every vein illuminated from within by a faint glow, mapping out my now defunct cardiovascular system in a beautiful but disturbing trail of interlacing lines. My eyes were bright enough to shine a faint light wherever I looked, and everything I looked at seemed outlined in fairy fire, some green, some blue, some red. I put my hands over my face in disbelief almost dropping the forgotten cassette recorder. Of course, why didn’t I think of it earlier? With a morbid curiosity, I re-wound the tape to listen to the coroner perform my autopsy.

The Death of Flinder Quickfingers

Flinder ran like he had never run before.  It wasn’t supposed to have gone like this; it was a simple job, a quick hit and run with a payout that should have made him look twice but it was for a nobleman and they never knew how much something like this was worth.  Sweat poured down his face as he thought about how wrong things had gone.

Their target hadn’t been a simple merchant; he had been some kind of blademaster.  He fought like a demon and had killed three of Flinder’s crew before the gnome had managed to hit him with enough poisoned crossbow bolts that he had fallen to the cobblestones, paralyzed.  Flinder was far too smart to kill a mark; stealing was one thing, but murder always brought more trouble than any fee was worth.

He had gone personally to recover the merchandise from the carriage.  It was supposed to have been in a small, easily movable iron casket, instead there was a series of strong boxes that had to be individually unlocked.  Every one of them had some sort of trap on it and he only very nearly avoided being poisoned by a particularly nasty needle trap on the last one.

The extra time meant that his crew was fighting the watch off by the time he finally got the casket open.  It was only by luck that he managed to slip through a sewer grate and run before the last of his muscle was overwhelmed.  Then the rats had started running from him.

It wasn’t just the normal running away from a threat, it was a panicked rush of animals that were terrified.  Something was inside the small iron casket.  Something dangerous.  Flinder had no desire to open it and now he just wanted to escape.  But he didn’t dare abandon the job.  If someone wanted this, they were powerful enough mete out retribution if he didn’t come through.

He stopped, his back against the wall and tried to quiet his breathing.  Removing his haversack, he placed the casket carefully inside, making sure to snuggle it between the layers of dirty clothes he had packed inside.  Making sure his hand crossbow was cocked and loaded with another paralytic bolt, he secured it out of sight beneath his rags and slipped out of the sewer into the bustling basement of the laundress’s shop.  This wasn’t the first time Flinder had made use of the slip me out here.  Best ten gold he had ever spent.

Stepping out into torch lit streets, the gnome almost walked straight into the night watchman who was waiting for him.  Maintaining his guise as a rag picker, he squinted at the man and bobbed his head.  “Apologies sirrah, didn’t see ya sirrah, old eyes ain’t what they were sirrah.”

“Flinder Quickfingers.”  He said, his eyes hard.  “Come with me.  We have business to discuss.”

Flinder looked at him for a moment and the man’s gaze was unsettling.  The game was up.  Cursing his luck and cursing the laundress for probably selling him out, Flinder looked for an escape while reaching beneath his rags for his crossbow. He never saw the rope that circled around his neck.

When he regained consciousness, Flinder looked around dazedly.  He was in a prison cell that was apparently built into something resembling a plush office.  Overstuffed chairs were arranged next to a crackling fireplace, paintings were attractively displayed on the walls and various bits of statuary sat on tables and pedestals.  His pilfered iron casket sat on a marble table near the fire.  His stomach churned.  It was open.

“So Quickfingers, tell me what you were thinking you were going to do with this?”  A man in a constable’s uniform gestured at the open iron box.

Flinder licked dry lips and shook his head dazedly.  “I didn’t know what was in it.”  He croaked, his voice raw.  “Just paid to get it.”

“Who would pay for something like this?”  A second man asked.  He was wearing an officer’s uniform; the rank of Nightmaster on his sleeve.  “Do you take us for complete fools?”

“Can I please have some water?”  Flinder asked plaintively, “My throat is parched.”

“God rotting gnomes.”  The Nightmaster hissed, spitting into the fire.

“Sir, I know they don’t understand propriety the way we do, however it makes sense to at least keep his lips moist while he answers our questions.”  The constable said, pouring a cup of water from a pitcher with condensation beading invitingly on the side.

Flinder didn’t even think about it being poisoned when he drank.  After all, they could have killed him any time.  Foolish.  He never expected the truth drugs; he hadn’t known they existed.

“Who hired you?”  The Nightmaster asked, leaning forward to hear the answer.  “What was the payoff?”

“I don’t know the Lady’s name, but she was of noble birth.”  Flinder said, feeling slightly dizzy.  “She offered ten thousand gold, which seemed to be an insane amount but you know nobility.  They’re all a bunch of insane maniacs who have no idea about what jobs are worth, I mean I’ve had Lords insist I assassinate someone for a handful of silver, not that I do those jobs you understand but I’ve brokered-“

“Enough!”  The Nightmaster cut him off, “What is this thing?”

“I don’t know what it was, like I said before, she just said she wanted it and it was important.  Was supposed to just be in that iron casket but they had it in a bunch of other chests and that crazy maniac must have been a swordmaster or something because he nearly killed my entire crew before we took him down.”

“Pox and rot this thing is useless.”

“Perhaps sir, we could sell it to this noble?”

“If we knew her bedamned name.  I’m sure this little bastard has already missed the time for the exchange.  When and where was it Quickfingers?”

“At the eleventh bell.”  Flinder said, feeling even dizzier now.  “In the fountains in the Flower district.”

“Missed it by three hours.”  The Nightmaster sighed, “Another one for the collection I suppose.”  He reached inside the casket and withdrew a hand constructed of a strange shining black material.  It ended right after the wrist in a maw of bristling needle like teeth.  It twitched in his hand slightly, the mouth of teeth opening and closing spasmodically.

“What a terrible thing.”  Flinder murmured, watching the hand as it strove to sink its fangs into the Nightmaster’s arm.  It was the last thing he saw as the poison stopped his heart.

Post Mortem Chapter 19

“What the fuck happened here?” Chief Inspector Micheal Donnovan stuck a piece of nicotine gum into his mouth as he walked into the building, ducking under the police tape that one of his deputies held up for him.
“You still trying to quit Mike?”

“Shut up Dan. Whadda we got?”

“It’s … it’s bad Mike.” Dan’s face twisted as though he’d bitten into spoiled meat. “It’s real bad. We gotta real sick motherfucker here Chief.”

They moved into the tent that was set up over the ruined front door of the building and Micheal fought down bile. The two bodies of the guards had been mutilated horribly. Although he knew it was utterly impossible, it almost looked like someone or … something had punched through their chests and torn their hearts out.

One of them had many broken bones and the other had a pair of gunshot wounds that, according to the initial report he scanned had been inflicted after the body had been dead. He swallowed hard and held out a hand. Dan wordlessly put a pack of cigarettes into it.

“It gets worse Mike.” He held the lighter out. “It gets a lot goddamn worse. Charity’s waiting down there with the circus act that’s the coroner’s report.”

“Yeah, OK. Keep the press out would ya?” He lit the cigarette and walked down into Hell’s charnel house.

“Now what the hell are we supposed to do?” The Fifth demanded, “The First are all dead, our secrets exposed to the cattle and we have no idea what or who is responsible!”

“It is the revolution.” Said the Fourth, “It can be naught else.”

“Those worms do not have the fortitude, the knowledge or the raw power to accomplish something like this.” The Third retorted, “It could not have been them.”

“Who else? The Hunters have been all but eliminated with the death of The Architect and it is not as though the cattle know anything.” The Fifth said.

“It matters not.” Said the Third speaking in a formal meeting for the first time in a decade. “Now we must focus on guarding against the threat that stands before us. We must accept that there is a new enemy. Perhaps a new predator.”

The others quieted, allowing this to sink in. “We all know now that Burnham was designing a disease to kill the cattle.” The Fifth began.

“I have felt it.” The Third said, raising the mask. The others gasped in shock. The face beneath was a mass of half healed wounds, some of which weeped blood. Now that the Third’s voice was no longer reverberating behind the mask, it sounded weak and strained.

“Third!” The Fifth exclaimed, “What are you doing?”

“I… will… show… you…” There were gasps of effort and pain between the words. Or were those gasps of pleasure? The wounds broke open and blood oozed from them, the coppery smell rich, thick and inviting to the other immortals in the room.

All they saw was a brief image. The last moments seen by dying eyes. A mass of ropy muscle and tendon extending like some grotesque serpent following the music of an insane snake charmer. It paused for a moment in front of their collective vision and they could all see an eyelid open from one part of it.

A piercing green eye peered at them, sparkling with hunger and malice. The eyelid blinked and the eye had been replaced by a maw of serrated fangs. It struck, faster than even Immortal eyes could follow and the vision was gone. Something still gripped the seer, although it had released the others in the room.

The Third drew shuddering, hesitant breaths, tears of pure vitae flowing down its cheeks to mix with the blood already there. “It ate his eyes. I could feel it looking at me. It sees me.” Its voice trembled with abject terror and rose in pitch and volume, “IT SEES ME!”

I floated in a wonderful sea of ecstasy, feeling warm and contented. The hunger that had nearly torn me asunder was sated and I was in a state of dreamy bliss. A vague feeling of something being wrong nagged at the corner of my consciousness, but I paid it little mind.

Something intruded upon my relaxed state, a bright light and the sound of human voices. They came and went, and I paid them little heed. There was nothing to fear from them. The voices went away, but the lights stayed opressively bright through my closed lids.

When the sound of footsteps and more human voices came to me again I was forced to take notice. Where was I? Memories filtered to the forefront of my mind. I was in the Tribunal’s formal audience hall. Something had happened… I had…

I tried to open my eyes, tried to sit up, tried to move at all, but nothing happened. I didn’t seem to have arms, legs, or anything that resembled a normal body. Centering myself, I forced calm.

“Jesus H fucking christmas, what the hell is this?” The voice was grating and gravely. I sensed the sharp, acrid scent of burning tobacco and I wanted it.

“Well sir, from what we can tell there are at least five bodies here. The confusing part is that they all seem to be… mixed somehow.” This voice was crisp and professional, but I could hear an undertone of tightly controlled terror. I liked this girl.

“No shit, they look like they’ve been put through a fucking wood chipper!”

“Yes, well… “ She took a breath and exhaled it sharply, “There’s no blood. There’s no viscera. With this many bodies there should be entrails, human waste, and a lot, I mean a lot of blood. But there isn’t any. Forensics collected over a thousand spent shell casings and they’ll have one hell of a time pulling everything out of the walls, but all this flesh looks like it’s been dead for days!”

“Who’s to say it hasn’t been?” He asked, the tobacco smell coming strongly again.

“Well, that’s the thing. The necrosis I’m seeing here indicates varying degrees of decay but it’s not like rotting meat at all. It’s more like frozen or very well refrigerated meat, and even then that doesn’t explain the lack of blood.” She paused as if steeling herself for what she was about to do, “But there’s more, take a look at this.”

“Sweet mother of… What the fuck is that?”

“I have no idea. It’s some kind of organic compund. At first I thought it was gelatin, but it’s nothing I can identify. I really don’t know what it is.”

“Goddamn it Charity, you gotta give me something.”

“Sir. This is way above my paygrade.” The click of her heels was getting closer. “I need some air, mind if I…”

“No, it’s fine, go ahead.” He said, “Is Ramirez here?”

“Not yet sir.” I felt her foot touch me. She had stepped on me. What the hell? I reacted instinctively, reaching up and felt a shock when we met skin on skin. My flesh melded with her flesh.

I could see the room now, the beauty of the destruction my hunger had wrought. This body was new to me, but it seemed fit and until recently it had been full of life and vigor. It wouldn’t last long, but I didn’t need it to. I took a step and faltered slightly, not having full nerve control yet.

“Hey Charity… you holding up all right?” I looked at his face, the rough stubble of beard and the deep shadows under his eyes. A cigarette was burning in his hand and even though he had spoken to me, is eyes were on my chest. It seemed to be as much a habit as the smoking.

I reached into the breast pocket of his shirt and took out his pack of cigarettes. “I think I need one of these.” I said, taking one out and waiting expectantly for him to proffer a lighter.

“I didn’t know you smoked.” He said, looking warily at me.

“I don’t.” I said, feeling the first nicotine buzz I had experienced in a century. With a feeling of giddy excitement, I turned and walked from the room and out the front door of the building.

I wept real, actual tears as the warmth of the sun touched my skin with a benevolent caress. Turning my face up toward the sky I let the sun wash away the despair that I’d felt ever since Svenka died. The sun was shining, I was free, and I knew where my lover’s killers were hiding.  Perhaps there was something to live for after all.

~fin

Post Mortem Chapter 18

“What is that disturbance?” Demanded the Elder wearing the Mask the First of the Tribunal.  “Balif, you will go now and deal with it.”

A hulking monster of a vampire stepped from the alcove where he had been standing motionless and stalked far too silently out of the room for his prodigious size.  There was a crash and clatter of small things falling to the floor.

No sound came from the hallway.  After a moment, a slow trickle of strange viscous fluid flowed down the three steps and into the meeting room.  A pair of shatteringly beautiful voices sang out of tune with each other in discord that ground against the ear.  The words of the song, if there were words, were in a language that escaped even the learned Elders in this chamber.

A figure in a torn Armani suit tumbled down the stairs, bleeding from a set of claw marks across its face.  The wounds didn’t seem to be closing even though the figure was obviously one of their kind.  What manner of madness was this?

The First gestured sharply and a cadre of heavily armed and armored guards moved forward to make a shield wall between the Elders and the door.  He sat back, fingering the cane next to him.  It contained a yard of knife sharp steel inside its polished ebony shaft.

The sharp click of a woman’s high heeled shoes striking the polished marble floor echoed throughout the silence of the chamber.  The guards raised the muzzles of their assault rifles and waited.  What walked through the door was a twisted parody of beauty.

Her body was long and graceful, her gait a sinuous stride that made her movements seem slower than they really were.  The tatters of an elegant silk robe still clung to her mutilated torso, shreds of flesh hanging with bits of white bone showing beneath.  Her left arm hung limp and useless and broken but what truly drew the eye was her mouth.

Instead of the elegant pair of sharp canine fangs, or even the sometimes the row of needles that appeared when one of their kind was truly starving, hers showed a bristling forest of spikes.  Some were so long that they overhung her lower jaw and many jutted out at obscene angles, punching through her cheeks.  There were rows of them, and her mouth kept opening wider and wider as more formed.

The sound coming from her mouth was a painfully beautiful, yet off key set of tones that made the air seem to quiver in protest.  When they didn’t respond, the creature paused and an expression that could only be described as primal rage crossed its face.

“Please, you have to kill her!”  The suited man said, crawling toward the line of guards.

“Vladimir?”  The First said, recognizing the vampire on the floor, “What is the meaning of this?”

“Shoot her, SHOOT HER!!!” Vladimir screamed.

The First crooked the little finger on his left hand and a single gunshot tore through Vladimir’s head.

“Stay where you are or be executed.”  The First said, watching in satisfaction as the leader of the Revolution twitched his last, the idea of soaking a rowan wood core in holy water and sheathing it in silver for a bullet had been his.  It was most effective..  “Blessed weapons made of silver and rowan are aimed at your heart, your brain and your gut.”

The creature tilted its head to one side, as if trying to consider something so far beneath or above it.  Like a human trying to understand a dog or a dog trying to understand english.  Then it made an unmusical, croaking sound that resolved into something that resembled words.

“Exe-cute-d?”  It said, “Ble-ss-ed?” It asked, the tangle of its teeth tearing chunks of cheek and lip as it spoke.  Then it turned its gaze to the soldiers in front of it. “Row-wan?”

“What, you don’t understand my words?  You don’t know the danger you are in?”  The First said with a smile.

“Heart brain and gut.” The creature said with startling clarity, “These your weaknesses?  Thank you.”  It smiled and froze the vitae in the First’s heart, as he realized he wasn’t hearing it speak.  This thing was inside his head. “That is where the best flavors will be.”

“Kill her!” He snarled, and the guards opened fire.  The projectiles ripped through the woman, shards of bone and flesh exploding from dreadful exit wounds.  Even the Tribunal Elders who were accustomed to violence and meting out Final Death winced at the carnage.  Those weapons were harsh reminders of how they could suffer if their weaknesses were exploited.

After absorbing dozens of rounds, what was left of the woman stumbled backward against the wall, her head was half demolished and one of her arms had been completely severed.  She swayed for a moment and then slid down the wall to the floor.  Graceful even in death.

“Go finish it.”  The First commanded.  One of the men reloaded his weapon and approached.  Drawing a silver hatchet from his belt, he bent to hack the woman’s head from her shoulders.  The body was obscured by his for for a moment and even as he swung he seemed to flinch away from the thing he was executing.

The flinch was followed by the sound of a whip cracking and he fell with all the grace of a rag doll.  The hatchet rang with a high, pure tone as it struck the marble floor.

“What the hell was that?  Get over there and KILL THE BITCH!” The First stood and leaned forward.

Three men came forward, pulling similar pure silver weapons from their belts.  The beautiful, but jarring sound of the woman’s musical chiming voice reverberated throughout the room and the soldiers closest to her dropped their weapons to clap their hands over tortured ears.

Heedless of their companions being in the way, the rest of the guards opened fire again, the sheer volume of projectiles shattering the marble sheathing on the walls and filling the air with the smell of cordite and burning blood.  The First realized that the chiming sound was laughter.

What rose from the ruined mess of flesh and bone was vaguely humanoid in shape, but gave the impression that it was just a shape made of untold thousands of things working together to accomplish a goal.  Thin threads of ropy muscle strengthened by shards of bone shot from it, impaling each of the guards three times, once in the head, once in the heart and once in the gut.

The chiming laughter made the world seem to tremble.  The First used his Dark Gift, calling upon his blood to grant him power, speed and the most powerful of all, foresight.  He could see possibilities stretch out before him, every movement showing a faint suggestion of what would come.

He blinked, focusing on potential futures, reaching as far ahead as he ever had.  Then the figures on the floor all stood, turning in unison to look at him from eyes that seemed to seethe like spheres of maggots.

“Mine.”  The woman’s voice grated against the inside of his skull as though attempting to bore through the bone.  “All the flesh, old and withered.  All the blood, fresh and vibrant.  All the bone, strong as steel.  All the Powers, bright and fair.  All the curses, black as hell.”

Every future he could see held nothing but the Final Death.

Post Mortem Chapter 17

Riding in a car when blind except for the strange flickers of what I was becoming accustomed to as the flames of the life force of the beings around me was a very unnerving experience.  I could feel the world moving beneath me, even the Earth itself seemed to have a life force of its own.

It was distracting and the thrum of life from below in concert with the flickering flashes of red and gold flying by us at speed made me feel almost dizzy.  Or intoxicated.  I was hungry.

“Focus!” Vladimir had been speaking to me for some time and I’d been ignoring him.  Partially out of principle and partially because I hated the sound of his voice.  “This is important damn you, if you don’t remember-”

“Oh shut up you old windbag!”  I said, “If you wanted me to know anything in advance you should have told me, oh I don’t know IN ADVANCE!”

“It does not really matter in the end does it? Either you will die for my cause and be a martyr or else you will win and kill my enemies.” Vlad said, his annoyance fading into smug satisfaction.

“There’s a third possibility.” I said, my voice a gutteral animal growl.  “I just might decide to eat you and damn the consequences.”

“What did you say?”  He demanded, “What language was that?”

“I have no interest in your petty revolution.  I don’t care about your personal issues, your vendetta or the Tribunal.”  I said, fixing him with what I’m sure was an unsettling stare.  “And what I said was that I might.  Decide.  To.  Eat you.”

The car hummed on in silence for a few moments.  “So you figured it out did you?” He said with a mixture of hesitation and fanatic glee in his voice.

Now it all came together.  The pain.  My Dark Gift fleeing.  Not being able to heal.  The lack of vitae in my veins.  He had infected me with … I shuddered in revulsion and anger.

“You gave me the gods damned virus.”  I said flatly.

“Yes!”  He said with insane fervor, “You will be my triumph where they failed!  I changed it so that the Hunter carrier gene would mutate inside an Undead body instead of a dead body and you, my dear sweet Renyovalia are my crowning achievement.  The ulitmate predator, the perfect weapon!”

“Why shouldn’t I kill you right now?”  I asked, my fingers flashing out to close around his throat.

“Because I alone have the ability to change you back.”  He said, barely able to get the words out as I increased the pressure around his neck.  “You do want the antidote do you not?”

I shook, every animal instinct screaming to kill him and it took every ounce of self-preservation not to.  “If you are lying to me I will stake you out for a sunrise Vladimir.”

He laughed as I forced one finger at a time away from his cold, lifeless flesh.  Was I making a huge mistake?  Probably, but this old fossil didn’t have nearly enough life force for me.  His fire was buried deep and stoked low.  I wanted something more.

“When do we arrive?” I asked, licking a mouthful of razor sharp needles.  “I’m starving.”

Vladimir’s laugh cut off as though it’d been severed by a knife.  Perhaps he was having doubts about his ultimate creation.

The two guards standing outside the doors of the Tilton Corporation’s main headquarters knew to expect extra traffic tonight.  They’d already seen several limousines and a few high end sedans drop off unfamiliar but distinguished guests.  The Bentley Mulsanne was a far cry from the other cars that they’d seen tonight though.

It glided to the curb nearly noiselessly and the driver who exited was wearing an impeccable white suit and chauffeur’s cap.  The large buttons on his jacket gleamed with a color that could only be real gold.  He opened the door with a bow and a man in a flawless grey suit stepped out and offered his hand to someone within.

An arm with all the pigment of a snow drift save for the strange nail polish the color of a day old bruise extended to accept the assistance.  A leg of the same pale color with a small foot clad in a red silk slipper daintily stepped out and a woman emerged with boneless grace.  She wore an embroidered Kimono, obviously modified for comfort, and a pillbox hat on her head with a veil that covered her face.

Unconsciously straightening to an even more rigid ramrod stance, they watched with interest as the pair approached.  Just as his counterpart was extending his hand to ask for their invitation, the guard on the left experienced a slight twinge of pain on his neck.

His Dark Gift flared in response and he moved with unnatural speed, twisting to bring the long knife from his belt so quickly that it appeared as a single arc of steel to the naked eye.  When he turned to see what had touched him, nothing was there.

Turning back with the same blinding speed, he saw only the man and woman.  The man was handing a simple card of embossed paper to his partner and the woman was slithering up to him with that same sinuous grace she had exhibited when exiting the Bentley.

“Excuse me Miss, I’ll have to ask you to wait until your invitation has been verified.” He said, sheathing his knife.

She smiled and looked at him then.  One of her eyes was sewn shut with tidy, even stitches of black thread that contrasted with her pale, bloodless skin.  The other eye had no iris and no pupil but instead was a sphere of unblemished white.  Her smile was a forest of needles.

“Shit!” He yelled, drawing the knife again and slashing at her throat.  Instead of trying to duck or block the strike, she glided forward and his forearm struck her shoulder instead of the blade hitting her neck.  It hard enough to shatter her bones anyway, but she didn’t even flinch.

“Oh yes.”  She said, her voice musically beautiful.  “You are much more to my liking.”  She had grabbed his knife hand with her undamaged arm and now she bit his wrist hard.

He stared at her in shock, his muscles were getting rubbery and unresponsive.  His face even slumped as though the flesh was made of gelatin.  When he tried to speak, it came out as a gurgling, bubbling noise.  Then the pain started.

The woman’s hand punched through his tailor made suit and the reinforced Kevlar vest beneath.  He barely felt the pain on top of the agony that was already making him blind and deaf to everything around him.  The last thing he saw before entering Final Death was his heart vanishing between those spiked teeth.

“Fuck the hell YES!” I said, ecstasy thrilling through my body in a rush of pleasure and, more importantly, Power.  Unlike Hex who had been alive when infected, I had been dead for a very long time.  The only strength I still retained was dedicated to keeping my body functioning and the ‘meals’ I’d had weren’t sufficient to do more than keep me moving.

This young vampire had been healthy, full of vitae and vitality and I felt his strength fill me.  He had clearly been chosen because of his destructive strength and speed; both Powers that were now mine.

To my frustration, I found that I still did not have much in the way of healing.  The bones in my left arm grated and scraped but even though they were broken it didn’t hurt and I still retained some of the motion in it.  Maybe one of the other food inside the building would have what I needed.

Something changed within me with this influx of Power.  My consciousness narrowed to exclude the unimportant details, a process made much easier by my lack of normal sight.  The bits of flame around me were like Willow-the-Wisps.  I wanted to follow them to their source.

I turned to look at the flames next to me.  The smaller one wasn’t interesting but the larger one was beginning to flicker and fade.  I had to consume it quickly or it would be gone.  I removed the guttering flame and ate it with relish.  It was delicious, but already I craved more.

The things between me and my meal shattered beneath my touch.  The tread of my feet would shake this place until all of it broke into pieces.   My hunger would consume it all.