EP 13: 3/5 VICAR VENEFICA


This episode's COVER was drawn by NICHOLAS PILOTTI.

This episode is PART THREE of FIVE of our OCTOBER SPOOKY-LINE.

PART ONE: #11 Master of Keys

PART TWO: #12 Dolly Polly


“I don’t understand,” I whispered, eyes scanning the cool mist which enveloped the town. The light of the warm auburn moon—contrarian to the typical silver moonlight of so many worlds—softened the night’s sharp edge. A heavy dark loomed in all corners and crevices. Yet walls and trees bathed in the thick moonlight, casting swaying shadows in the breeze across the ground.

The shadows of the trees danced over bodies. A dozen splayed across the town center. Shriveled, cold white corpses. I raised my scarf over my whiskers.

A woman dressed in black floated amongst the bodies. Her face was white as snow, hair shorn bald. Tattoos of keyholes covered her scalp like birthmarks. Her shining red eyes and lips admired the scene, expressionless.

Threshold said, “Malevolence does not always make sense.” She wore heavy chains linked of thousands of keys together. Brass and gold, silver and iron. The chains must have weighed hundreds of kilograms. She was not burdened by this weight.

The tall, lanky nun said, “Have you looked closely? They are dotted.”

I knelt beside one of the bodies, whose clothes were shredded to pulp around the wrinkled dry skin. I let sorcery leak through my eyes to light the scene.

“No,” I told Threshold, “not dots.” I touched the corpse with my claw. Hundreds of black dots covered the body. But not dots. “They’re holes.”

In the warm moonlight, her face fell. She bit her lip. “You were right to call upon me.” She hovered to my side, and gave me a hand to my feet. Being human, she towered above me. Her nun robes hung like black curtains coiled in the breeze. Her eyes—red as gemstones, not a pupil or iris or whites—struck me like an animal’s. In her eyes lie a shark’s feral focus.

Yet the longer I peered into them, the more human they became. As if the emotion was torn free of any shield or lie, and revealed in full. The color horrified me. But why? Why did red scare me so? Blood? Ire? I did my best to set that aside. There was an angelic beauty to Threshold’s face. Like the princesses and fairies of my homeward, she carried a majesty to her grace.

That majesty deserved my respect. Not my fear.

“Let us observe this foul scene,” Threshold let go my paw and lowered to the ground. A slick black boot reached from beneath her cloth. She strode over the deadened town with careful eye.

I followed.

A tree made nude by autumnal breeze towered above the middle of town—a large oval grass field for festival, play, worship, though I could never know for certain. The people who once lived lively over that field were now splayed over it, rotting to become one with the soil. The grass—obviously trimmed to perfection before—had begun sprouting weed flowers and long grass curled around a cluster of corpses, grasping the flesh like starving fingers.

Wooden homes surrounded this abandoned vigil. Homes brown and plain, with only a door and no windows. Simple. Proper. Resilient.

Threshold inspected every corpse. I watched her process. The study of the scene was what mattered most. She had spent countless millennia capturing murderers and imprisoning them in the very rooms where they committed their deeds. Her body was literally a prison—a hell—for those who had hurt others. She was a master at hunting those who hunt.

And in a case such as this, where magic unknown to me, and motive impossible to define, lie beyond any hope of mortal reason, it was best to step aside and consult the wisdom of a master, rather than stumble on forth like a fool.

No matter her cruelty, she was powerful. And no matter her belief, she was just. If there was one thing I had taken away from my life at that time, it was the importance of my choice and the gravity of my humility. In the end, my belief belonged only to me, and my actions to myself. Simply because she walked a merciless route did not make her merciless, or menacing, merely convicted.

“They are dry as bone,” I said of the bodies, insecure and needing to extend my findings. “No organs left but flakes. The bones crumple and crack. Bloodless.”

She said nothing, instead she carried on in silence. We marched through the cold shifting between the shadows. Many of the doors were opened in town—we passed a home whose patron still clung to the doorhandles, even after death. Fingers frozen. Mummified.

Three tiny bodies clung to one another beneath the willow tree. The warm moon caressed their faces in shadows of the willow. Mouths agape. Eyes wide. They were terrified in their demise.

Threshold stood across from them. She opened her palm, and summoned three white flowers—whose stigmas resembled the blood red kiss of her lips. She planted the flowers in their laps.

One of the corpses reached out—as if frozen in time. Their hand curled in begging pleads. Threshold reached past the hand, and set her fingers in each of the body’s agape mouths. She investigated their toothless gums briefly.

Threshold turned to me, “For me, it is pain.”

I cocked my head, “I’m sorry?”

“Porbiyo collects animals. Polly, dolls. Bigklau, instruments. Yizzimis, his . . . recipes, if one could call whatever he makes food. They call me ‘Master of Keys,’” she jingled her chains. “A fine title, I suppose. But these chains are merely a means to an end.” She ran her fingers along her skull, touching the inked keyholes which riddled her skin. “I take the tortures of these places, these rooms. . . and the monsters who commit them. I lock them away.”

“You said, the last time we met, you show the worlds these events. So that’s your mission, then—you collect pain merely to expose it?”

She nodded, “Too many choose ignorance of tragedy. I am a prison for monsters, and a lesson to the naive.” Her red lips curled at one end. Her cheeks did not bend, as if adverse to joy. “Many beings call us Agglomerates. Fitting. This disease. . .” she took the corpse’s outstretched hand, fearless to touch the dead. She held it gently. Almost in grief. “This disease, rattled from world to world, leaves us grasping for any semblance of self. We are wordless. And so what do we do? Take, and take, and collect pieces—fragments—to make our own little worlds. . . keepsakes to remind us of places, peoples, memories we’ll someday lose.” She let go of the hand. “These people reached out. There was nothing there to grasp onto. No hero. No god. Failed faith. . .”

I lowered my head. Her words struck swift. I thought of home—the orchards. I thought of my family—That Time. I thought of every friend I had ever made, every person I had failed, every moment I’d spent. For a brief moment, I envied that town and all the corpses. To die beneath an auburn moon nearly felt like mercy.

“I’ve wondered,” she said, “as the stories came to me—of this ratman called Opaline—my curiosity grew. You are one of us, yet not a word of your disease. Our illness, this Agglomeration, have you succumb just yet? What is it you keepsake?”

“I don’t collect anything.”

“Ah, you are young, still. Only centuries of life have run course with you. Millenia will pass, eras, epochs. . . until you begin to realize entire universes have lived and fallen in shorter periods than the timeless-time you have existed. And you won’t remember anything. . . anything except the identity you claim.” She ran her lengthy black fingernails across her chains. “Soon your soul will start grasping, collecting. And you will become a thief like all the rest. Shallow souvenirs will be all that remain of you. . . of the ‘self’ you claim.”

Shivers ran up my spine.

She strode into the field beneath the tree. A small wooden rocking horse lie toppled in the yard. Several other wooden toys littered the lawn, revealed like ruins under sand as the wind blew off the fallen leaves.

Threshold moved her fingers in a signing unfamiliar to me. The motions were quick, yet intentional. With her motions, faint runes hovered around the walls of the house.

“This was their home, the walls call to me. . .” Threshold said. “Come. And ready your sorceries. We are upon the scent of this demon.”

We rounded the little windowless house. The front door—which faced the oval field where bodies lie graveless—had shattered and was thrown meters from the three step stair leading down to the grass. A drained, dotted corpse lie sprawled across the steps. He clutched a cast iron pot so tight that in his demise it remained in place. His head was at the bottom of the steps looking to the sky. His feet were at the top, legs wide on the porch. Upside down.

Threshold hovered up the steps and into the dark house. I scanned the steps a moment more. A wooden spoon stuck out, pinned beneath the dead man’s legs.

I scurried up the steps. Threshold’s chains shone lustrous in the otherwise darkened home. Homes often had windows, or light in the day—but this place, and all the rest of this village, felt so primal. These people lived in dark caves. Airless, ventless homes. A fireplace led to a chimney up above. That was all the manner in which light could strike these people besides lantern or torch.

Threshold ran her fingers along the fireplace. Signing with her fingers, faint runes glistened over the chamber—a fading flash in the dark. She inhaled, and the cold embers rose to life but for a blink.

“The chimney whispers. They’d lit this fire. . . two nights ago. Perhaps last night, if it burned unimpeded. This was not tended.”

I came fully into the chamber—a small living quarters. Wooden table, chairs. Dining counter. Books and toys. Many torch-holds and candelabra. Behind the rusty iron fireguard remained nothing but a heap of white soot.

Burned to completion. Not a log or twig left.

In a town this small, firewood wasn’t wasted so simply.

“This was an assault, yes,” Threshold said. “Unexpected. . . the man outside was fleeing, yet he lie upside down—he moved backwards from the door. Whatever attacked him came from inside. The fire kept burning. . .”

She swept her nails across the mantle adorned in candles and tiny glass mosaics, and her black robes descended along the walls of the hall, blending her fully to the shadow. Her chains glistened until the light of the door died, and when she turned around at the end of the hall, all I saw were bright red eyes and lips which glowed without explanation. She motioned, “Come along. I sense we are not alone in this place. The walls speak. . . they whisper cruelty and courage. Rooms speak to an empty audience. . . let us listen, Ratman.”

We moved down the hall, ignoring several small rooms along the way. She shifted into an open doorframe. Her cloth flowed in wake, blocking the door upon my arrival. As it curled along the edges I saw the door was broken free. Thick claws had mauled the frame and the door.

My mouse eyes saw in the dark, though light would make things clearer. I had no interest in lighting this place. I knew what it was. I couldn’t bear to see the dressers, dollhouses, and wallpaper in the light. Ragdolls and wooden figurines littered the hardwood floor. Pink flowers were pasted to the walls, stemming from the dressers where dollhouse lawns spread on green playmat of cloth.

On a tiny bed—fit for me—an adult body lie rotting. Her clothes were mangled and shredded. Blood covered the floor and the white floral blankets.

Threshold moved to the other side of the bed. She did not use her hands, yet the body rose into the air and was set gently into the hall—passing me as if carried by a ghostly funeral procession.

“Why hasn’t she deca—?” I tried to ask. Threshold’s finger went to her lips. She pointed to the bed.

A heap of blankets rustled. A whimper shook the sheets.

Threshold coaxed me towards the bed. I shifted over, carefully, and took the edges of the blanket in paw. With anxious trembles, I pulled back the blanket. A petite humanoid girl—no older than six years—cowered prone. She smelled of rot and piss, white dress yellow. She clung to a stuffed dog toy.

Threshold knelt beside the bed. She smiled with such kindness and warmth I couldn’t understand it—except that she cast a spell over the space. Threshold’s energy melted. Despite her eerie appearance, she lit the bedside lantern and with a grin calmed the room in assured closure.

“You are safe, little one. You are safe.”

The child closed her eyes. Her quick breaths fell to grace. She slept with Threshold’s spell.

Threshold stood. The girl rose into the air, cradled by telekinetic arms as if held by a parent. She clutched her toy close. Threshold wiped dried blood from the child’s rosy plump cheeks.

“Came in through the chimney,” Threshold said. “Night after night. Crept into the girl’s room. . . spoke to her. A few weeks go by, and the mother saw the creature. She burst into the room in the midst the night, threw herself upon her girl, and died in her daughter’s stead.” She pointed outside, “The father lie on the steps. . . he banged pots and pans to distract the creature from his wife. He hoped she would survive. She didn’t. But that is why she is only half drained. Once the creature got outside, and ate the husband, the town awoke to the screams. . . and it feasted on the fearful folk outside.”

“Gods,” I cursed, and set my jaw.

Horrifying.

Threshold opened her palms. A colossal scythe appeared in her hands—misted from the tears of memory. The walls whispered and as they cried, the vapor formed into the blade of the weapon.

Threshold danced the air and sheared the walls, the floor, and the roof. The room split at the edges of reality—fading, fading, fading.

I was lost, for a second, in a black haze.

But the room recollected. Scenes played out within the space. Girls played with dolls, and told stories in the candlelight. Father and Mother tucked in their child, readying for bed. Flashes of memories. A room’s life placed with me in the very center.

Threshold’s scythe literally cut the room from reality. She closed her eyes, dismissed her ludicrous weapon, and crossed her legs midair. In prayer her keychains spun around her like the cosmic rings of a planet. Her keyhole tattoos burned bright gold.

Speak your tragedy to me, so that I may witness. Take me beyond the threshold, to where perspective may succumb to event. Dream for me. . . dream this threshold.”

Threshold and I become phantoms in the space. The room took a new life, a memory remade. The girl lie in bed. She slumbered in the night. And a winged fairy of awful flesh appeared to her.

The monstrous fairy held out her hands, but the girl gave two tiny white pearls. Then the fairy checked beneath the pillow, and scrounged up another pearl.

She held out her hands for more—but the girl began to cry.

The rest played out precisely as Threshold claimed. The mother ran in, threw herself over her daughter. The fairy morphed, warped, shed her skin and became a terror. The mother was murdered ontop of her child—saving her life, and scarring her forever. The father made as much noise as possible, luring the beast from his family. Once the creature left the room, the scene ended.

When I blinked, we arrived in the hallway, returned to reality.

Threshold shut the door behind us. A keyhole branded on her forehead, blazing golden, and clicked back along her skull—the keyhole runes behaved mechanically upon her skin, shifting into geared pattern. A thick rusted key floated from the doorframe where it rested. She cast off the dust, and clipped the key onto her chain.

Threshold clutched the key, and took a deep breath. “The girl. Check her lips.”

The child hovered, in deep slumber, by the open door. I examined her lips. “Fine.”

“Her teeth. . . peer beneath the lips.”

I raised her upper lips. Under her lips, her gums were inflamed. She was missing all her teeth.

The pearls she handed the fairy in the vision were not pearls.

I turned back to Threshold in horror, and the pieces snuck together. My lips trembled, but I said, “All of their mouths. . . are open. Every corpse. Every. Last. One.”

She nodded.

“You brought up Agglomeration. I thought you were merely making conversation. But—.” I paused, the culmination wrecked me. I said, “But you knew. Out there, by the tree. You looked into their mouths, you knew someone had taken their teeth.”

“Toothless,” she said.

“Who. . . who is it?”

“You don’t know?” she said.

“I’ve heard there are dozens of us. . . no. I don’t know anyone who collects teeth.” I wracked through my brain but not a memory came alive.

A fairy?

A tooth fairy?

“Opaline, you really don’t know?” Threshold asked earnest.

I shook my head, “There is another one of us. . . who is this murderous?”

“The madness of eternity has no morality. We are ill, you and I, only in different places in our Agglomeration. Yes. There is one who murders towns for pleasure. . . there are worse, too, who have touched Peridot and are cursed to this fate such as us. . . but today you meet an elder-thing. She is not so kind as I.

“She has hunted you, you know, by the order of some esoteric gospel?” Threshold said. “Rumor spread of traps she laid that you never noticed. We are not facing some beast in the night, rat, you have stumbled on the bait. . . a dead town under an auburn moon. . . the scent of death and promise of justice. You are always there to avenge the mistreated and murdered. You were right to call out to me, as alone she’d flay you alive. Your magic does not compare to this monstrosity. You have come to her trap. We have fallen into her trap. Let us escape. . . I pray she slumbers.”

“Slumbers. . .” was the only word that escaped my lips. My mind untied knots of bewilderment.

“She has just fed. A predator must rest after a meal so large. She will be weaker—lethargic. Perhaps slumbering. . .” Threshold drew her scythe, and floated to the door. She turned back to me, red eyes brilliant in the orange moonlight. “She awaits.”

I took a deep breath.

Every Agglomerate I had ever met was far beyond my power. Porbiyo held an army of animals at his display. Threshold’s skin contained tens of thousands of rooms. Dolly Polly ripped souls from children and instilled dolls with his catch. They could change reality, warp the physical into the two dimensional. They floated rather than walked and teleported about as if their tricks were child’s play.

My stonefire sorcery exhausted me. My powers relied on skill. I had lived over a century with Peridot. The other Agglomerates had lived millennia. Their skill, ability, and talent had become effortless. To the others, magic was akin to breathing.

Facing one of my own kind, no matter who, gave me pause.

This was not a simple monster hunt.

The horror of what I’d seen was compounded by a startling realization: I was not the one in control, here. I was not the hero coming to find the monster. I was the mouse fallen into the trap.

I laid my paw on the sleeping girl, and whispered, “I’ll finish this.” I tapped Beep’s drawing in my pocket. The two dimensional sketch of a bee-sheep materialized. I told Beep to guard the child. She obliged.

I stepped into the moonlight, passed by the prone father, and marched in Threshold’s wake. Across the field stood a lonesome silhouette. Corpses lie around her, mouths agape. She was barely recognizable as a “she,” the only discernible features being her shredded nightgown, and Threshold’s referring to her as such.

Two matte insect-like wings reached from her shoulders, tall and mighty as opposed to the shriveled, blue-grey arms which hung lifeless at her sides. Her neck and body rolled with layers of fat—but her legs were thin as twigs, knees chunking like hunks of bone.

Her lips were small. Grinning. Her face sunk into a layer of fat, like a mane of flesh. She had no hair. Not human. . . not at all. No eyes. Only nostrils.

Absolutely wrong. No human physique I’d ever seen carried such proportions. The skin folds, the fat layers, yet the frail limbs—such a foul, blue-skinned fiend.

Her dress swayed in what little wind blew through the houses.

“Vicar Venefica,” Threshold whispered to me, “she is called Vicar Venefica.”

“A Vicar,” I said, stumbling over what possible religion could contain such a foul, demonic, fiendish creature. “A Vicar of what?”

I blinked.

In that split second—the Vicar flew thirty meters, grasped me in her clutches, and held her nails against my throat. My eye unblinked.

She stared into my eyes, hungry and fixed. When I looked down, we were ten meters off the ground.

I struggled. She laughed.

Centimeters from my face, her fleshy mane flanked her blank face. Decay wafted through my whiskers. Her tiny lips parted, her mouth expanded—consumed her whole face. Dozens of rows of teeth curled in her mouth. No tongue. No throat. No gums.

Only teeth.

Hundreds upon hundreds of teeth.

I used a Force sorcery, and imagined pushing a hundred-kilogram block of iron. Imagining the power required, I inverted the push movement and bashed the Vicar with a telekinetic wave of Force.

My sorcery did nothing.

She didn’t let go.

She didn’t twitch.

I blinked.

A flash of light. I looked down—the Vicar’s arms were sliced off. Black ooze spewed everywhere. I fell out of the air.

Threshold’s scythe had sliced off her arms. Threshold soared down and grasped me. She lowered me to the ground. Her keychains cycled around her body like the rings of a planet, searing as sun rays.

Vicar Venefica teleported between us. She battered her wings—and sent me sliding across the grass. Her severed arms still clung to me—sharp claws digging through my fur into my skin. I ripped off what remained of her arms.

By the time I readied myself, Venefica was continuously teleporting around Threshold, striking in a circle with her talons. A long, boney tail slid beneath her skirt and whipped out. Each strike smashed into invisible shields centimeters from Threshold’s body.

Threshold blocked every strike telekinetically.

The Vicar’s arms grew back. She opened her palms. A forceful wave burst from her hands as a bone-white scythe materialized. The two magi rose into the sky, twirling their weapons at one another in futile attempts to end the fight.

I inhaled deeply. My paws twitched with sorcery, my Aura filled with opal-blood. My eyes burned bright orange.

Threshold paused the Vicar with sorcery—halting her dead in the sky.

Venefica fought off the attempt, and teleported behind Threshold. She tried to cut through the Master of Key, but Threshold unlocked a room and “fell” into the pocket dimension. A three meter by three meter room appeared above the tree in the midst of town. It hovered, defiant against gravity.

Venefica ignored this.

She teleported behind me.

But I expected that.

My tail whipped into the ground and flipped me backwards. I opened my mouth, unleashing frigid-hot stonefire at the Vicar. The orange and blue blaze erupted from my lips like a blizzard of lava.

Venefica shrieked.

But she teleported away.

Somewhere, across the town where she teleported, she kept shrieking. Out in the light of the auburn moon, she had taken shelter.

Threshold’s room floated towards me as the stonefire solidified in the ground, creating a streak of metallic stone. Threshold soared from the room’s door, red eyes alight. She said, “Your sorcery—how exhausting is it?”

“I can do it again—and hold it longer. But it takes a moment for me to charge up.” I inhaled, focused my breathing. With steady heartbeat my Aura boiled with stonefire. The blood of birthstone—opal—rushed through me. All these decades away from home, and still the magic taught to me as a mouse in the meadow only grew stronger. “I can do so much more.”

I reached into my Boundless Bag. I took the Kaihan helm from its place and slid the golden draconic helmet over my face. My ears coiled into tubes and fit into the horns, the visor chomped down to mimic the face of a dragon.

“The Kaihan Helm,” Threshold said. “I was not aware you were in possession of it.”

“How do you—?”

“Half a century on one world,” she nodded, “I remember the legends of those people, still. Wield their helm well.” She nodded once more in assurance.

I opened the visor wide in preparation for my stonefire breath.

Venefica wailed in the distance.

I must have breathed on her directly.

Threshold locked the key on her forehead—the room misted away—and the tattoos along her scalp clicked into place. Her scythe sheared the air without her hands in control. Her hands signed in her esoteric language.

“I hit her,” I said, “you have fended her off completely. We can take her, together.”

Threshold looked back, “She is still sleeping.”

My heart stopped. “What do you mean?” My eyes scorched. The stonefire inside burned.

“Vicar Venefica has just fed. . . she drained this entire town of their blood and organs. Her body is metabolizing souls. . . the way a predator slumbers after a meal, she is asleep.” She took a deep breath, and set her jaw, hands signing symbols faster than I could comprehend. “We’re facing her subconscious. She is dreaming.”

“That’s ridiculous. How do you know that?”

Venefica howled in the distance. That was not in pain.

Rage now echoed in the night.

“We can’t beat her awake. . .” Threshold whispered, “. . . be ready. I’ve prepared my move. When I tell you to—.”

The Vicar hovered in the distance. She did not teleport. The fiend’s wings did not move. She rose like a puppet tied to strings, and calmly floated above the tree in the midst of town, over the corpses she’d devoured, and into the way of the auburn moon.

She blocked the moon. A black, wicked silhouette, arms outstretched and legs trembling. Her wings twitched and retracted—she still floated.

“AND UNTO THEE COMITH THE MESSAGE OF THE LORD,” Her voice called from the gaping mouths of her victims. All around us, the bodies spoke her words. “BY WORD OF THIS HARBINGER. I AM VENEFICA, BLEEDER OF STARS, THEE SHALL HEAR THIS CREED, AND SPEAK MY WORD—IMPARTED BY THE LORD.”

I tried to make a move.

I couldn’t move.

I couldn’t breath.

I couldn’t speak.

Some spell took hold of me.

Threshold, too, was frozen.

Venefica’s tiny lips expanded and consumed her face. The giant gaping mouth—throat of teeth and teeth alone—peeled back. The skin folds of her neck—what I’d thought to be fat—kept peeling.

And peeling.

And peeling.

Until her body moved inside out. Her flesh inverted. Her arms were eaten inside. Her wings were scrunched. Her legs tucked away. And the throat—made entirely of gnashing, gnarly, wicked white teeth of all shapes and sorts—had become her skin.

In front of the orange moon she awakened.

“Yes. . .” her voice chattered, her skin of teeth all clicking at once. Thousands upon thousands of teeth chittered as scales. Her bat-like wings stretched out as fresh flayed skin, held together by raw bones. Long, wicked claws curled from her wings, opened wide as if in invitation.

The tree branches behind swayed with her silhouette.

With her transformation the spell broke.

I could move again. I drew my star spear. But I lost my sorcery—stonefire dying when the Vicar’s spell froze me. I had to recharge.

Threshold backed beside me, scythe floating infront as her hands signed swift as starlight.

“Awake, are we?” Threshold said.

Venefica—in this true form—stood nearly four meters tall. Her neck stretched long, coils of teeth grinding together. Slim shoulders held her winged arms in place. Her torso and legs resembled a wyvern—but once more fleshless. All teeth. The creature I’d seen before, all fleshy and foul, was nothing but a cocoon, a protected layer.

I took as deep a breath as possible, and pushed every ounce of energy I had into a sorcery. Stonefire charged in my Aura.

I still could not fathom her—Vicar Venefica was entirely teeth.

Small teeth, bestial teeth, newborn’s teeth to the fangs of reptiles. All shapes. All sizes. Her draconic legs pushed through the ground when she landed, moving like some upright fiendish angel. She slid through the grass, tooth-made tail whipping behind.

I could not believe my eyes.

Her face. . .

Her face was a mosaic of baby’s teeth, shaped into the helmet of a knight. Children’s teeth of all races. . . reptilian to human. Tiny, small, nubbish. The slender, angled visor leaked blue smoke. The visor hinged upwards on tooth pegs, and rather than eyes underneath she revealed a mouthful of serrated fangs. The fangs hinged to and fro like the tentacles of a cephalopod—waving to us. . . taunting us.

Threshold soared into the air. Her keychains splayed like wings. Her fingers shaped a thousand runes. Her scythe circled the battlefield.

Venefica, and her corpses, chanted, “SMITE THEE.”

The Vicar teleported before Threshold and grappled her. Threshold screamed in agony. I am ashamed of it. But in that second. . . I was paralyzed by fear.

Venefica engulfed Threshold. Her claws dug into Threshold’s back, wings enveloping her in a fleshy cocoon. She pressed Threshold against her body.

Her teeth skin. . .

Thousands of teeth. . .

All punctured Threshold. The teeth ripped into her cloth, chattered against her chains, sliced into her flesh. Blood drizzled down. Venefica’s torso, forged of fang and fury, drank of Threshold’s blood.

I glanced to the drained, hole-riddled corpses across the lawns.

The fear drilled into me, then. I’d seen monsters like this before. I had faced the eternal mighty blood-crazed soldiers. The House of Starbleeder. . . I knew of these cosmic fiends.

Vicar Venefica was not just a tooth fairy.

She was a fucking vampire.

“OPALINE,” Treshold screeched at the top of her lungs. Vicar Venefica jetted through the air, hunger pulling her haphazard as if on strings. The chaos of her meal blinded her. The Agglomeration blinded her.

Avarice was a wicked vice.

“OPALINE,” Threshold screamed again. I snapped out of my fear. Eyes blazing blue and orange, I scanned the auburn night sky for a way to help her. If I shot stonefire, Threshold would be turned to stone, too. Would that even work on them?

Threshold’s scythe still twirled through the air, tracking the feeding Vicar as she tossed Threshold through the air, toothy skin eating away.

“DO IT,” Threshold screamed.

I shook my head. I couldn’t stonefire her. Who knew what would happen.

“OPALINE, NOW.” She shrieked. . . her divine voice broke. She sounded human. She sounded mortal. She sounded scared.

I stopped thinking.

I unleashed. Blue and orange marbled together, swallowing my voice in my own mighty breath. Hazing flames erupted across the field from my Kaihan helm’s jaws. Flames turned to stone. Corpses turned to stone.

I breathed. I didn’t stop. I let loose every last drop of sorcery in my Aura. Threshold’s screams propelled my fury.

When I closed my lips, the fur on my face had burned up. The Kaihan Helm’s golden dragon fanged visor burned orange in heated metal. My throat scratched and smoked. My whiskers evaporated. In the distance, Threshold’s scythe whipped through the air in choreographed dance. The weapon spun like a sculpture carving stone. Except the blade did not chop the air, or flesh, or the ground.

Threshold’s scythe guided my stonefire.

Threshold yelled out and broke free of Vicar Venefica’s grasp. The vampiric fiend lurched through the air.

Threshold fell back—her scythe slid into her hands. She swung the blade in front of her—stonefire followed. The blade swished and my sorcery, as it did, forged a stone wall in wake of the blade.

Vicar Venefica slammed into the wall.

Threshold swung around, guiding the wall against her blade. A corner formed and the stonefire solidified into the back wall, and then a ceiling, and the opposite side.

The Vicar thrashed—but the walls were inscribed. With each strike of Venefica’s claws, the room bounced in golden runes.

I collapsed to my knees. My eyelids fought to close, but I needed to see.

Aura drained, I couldn’t stand any longer.

The last thing I saw was Threshold sealing the room with my sorcery. The chamber crashed into the ground. She forged a key and locked the chamber, folding the entire space into a miniature pocket of reality on her skin.

The keyhole tattoo glistened on her forehead as the room “blipped” away.

I fell into a slumber,

Half terrified, and half in awe.

~~~


I woke in the grass, curled in a ball. Threshold stood above me, morning sun behind her. She held the hand of the little girl we met before. The child was awake. In her arm, she carried a small burlap doll.

I stretched and rose. Threshold took me aside, and the child stood alone in the field.

“Bodies are gone,” I said, admiring the now corpseless field. “You cleaned all of this up, but I thought you showed people the pain?” I motioned to the child.

She, quite matter of factly, said, “This child has seen worse than I could ever show her.”

I nodded, and felt foolish for saying what I’d said. My stomach growled, burning from the stonefire. I said, “What you did was incredible. How did you pull that off?”

“I saw you attempt that strange sorcery. . . and when I realized it hardened, and when I sensed the power of it—I knew I could forge walls of the substance.”

“The hand-signs?”

“Ushamran, or Place Speech. I speak with the places I visit. All walls watch us, floors carry us, ceiling cover us. The Ushamran opens them to gossip. But it also imparts their memory, their signature, their stamps. . . so I have taken the pain Venefica inflicted and simply—.”

“Inflicted it back.”

She tapped a small keyhole on her scalp, “She is confined to a room of her very making. For now.”

I exhaled in awe. “Good thinking.”

“Good magic,” she said.

“What of the girl?” I said.

“We should find her a home.”

I opened my palm. My top appeared, and spun for quite a bit. “We have weeks, it seems.”

“Plenty of time to find you a home, sweet thing.” Threshold took the girl’s hand.

I took her other hand. Together we walked the girl under the sun, far away from that place where the toothed horror devoured everything she ever knew or loved.

We camped for the night in the forest. By the bonfire, I asked Threshold, “How long will you contain the Vicar?”

Threshold’s red eyes introspected. She whispered, “Not long. I doubt until we ‘blip,’ if candid. She is rumbling. . . rash.”

I nodded, preparing myself for that inevitable showdown. I feared I hadn’t seen even a fraction of Vicar Venefica’s power. That was a worthy fear.

“I know what she is, now. But as a Vicar, what faith does she preach?”

Threshold shrugged, “Does her faith matter? In light of what you see here, now? She preaches nothing but malice, and acts on nothing but despair. Vicar Venefira is an agent of blood.”

“A vampire.”

“Yes. . . a vampire.”

We spoke of nothing else that night. And neither did we sleep. We lie awake, in one another’s company beside the embers of a dying flame. Our minds knotted at the same thread: Vicar Venefica would wake. And this time, when she woke, there’d be no transformation, no distraction, no pause.

She’d ready a gospel.

A gospel in blood.



END, to be continued. . .