This cover was drawn by the author.
This episode is PART FOUR of FIVE of our OCTOBER SPOOKY-LINE.
The girl was safe from the contained Vicar Venefica. Threshold and I spent several days searching for a place that could adopt her. Expansive fields lead to a “mainstreet” style town, built by people who were capable only of using bricks by the looks of it. We came upon a humble orphanage operated by an old human named Bev. She was blind, but taught the orphans the ways to “see without the eyes.”
“The girl is safe, for now,” Threshold said, taking a rest at a weathered bench in the midst of town. This world crawled with humans, though in the street a squad of pink-skinned goblins played ball with local children. Threshold took her place with no worry of belonging. Her appearance aroused dozens of stares, announcing her presence to any whose eyes passed by. Such mighty grace, with such a humble disregard for judgement. I stirred in my seat. I was not often one to care for stares and whispers, but mostly the stares and whispers of dilapidated townsfolk produced any number of responses—particularly aggression.
“I hope she is raised well,” I said.
“She will be,” she said, staring off through the falling leaves. Chilled wind chimed her key chains which draped over her shoulders.
“The walls told you, didn’t they?” I said, seeing the warmth in her eyes.
Her glowing red lips, like softened rubies, curled to the sky. Her lengthy eyelashes interlocked like the safeguards of memory.
Eyes closed, she spoke softly, in mimic to the whispers of the walls which bequeathed her this sight: “Laughter. Play. Lessons and lectures. Toys made not by makers, but by the very hands who play with them. Misbehaving little rascals run down the hall. Children turned to adults by firm but loving hands.”
I lie back on the hard bench, exhausted from the sleepless nights in fear of Vicar Venefica’s inevitable escape from Threshold’s prison. The buildings across the way lacked windows—boarded up by planks of beaten wood. Two entire structures were demolished into piles of rubble. These enormous spaces appeared like oversized alleyways, riddled with cliques of teenage human and goblin alike.
The park in which we chose to rest was empty. Flowing grasses, lovely evergreens, the smell of fresh dew in the air—yet empty of anyone but us. But the ruined buildings were overrun. This said something to me, though I wasn’t sure what.
“Broken,” Threshold said, “this place is so broken.” She dusted off her coat and strode across the park, coat trails through the fallen leaves.
“Where are you going?”
“These shattered walls, turned to floors, call to me. This tragedy cries for listening ears. Only mine may hear it.”
“Maybe relax a moment?” She had particularly had a long few days. I barely slept, neither did she—if Threshold even needed to sleep. She was likely beyond such mortal necessity. But containing Vicar Venefica took its toll. The vampiric Agglomerate rattled away in Threshold’s pocket dimensional prison every second of every day.
One could only take so much.
“With such power, can one relax?” She said so smoothly. “In one moment—with one choice—we change lives. Monsters to mundane folk are but toys to me, and to you. A moment of passivity on our parts is as cruel as malevolence.” She cocked her head to the side, “Intriguing that you suggest rest, when you are the ‘meddler’ as they say.”
I smiled, “Let’s go.”
We attracted more attention marching then not, with Threshold’s thousands of gold keychains clanking with each step. The goblins and the humans gawked at her porcelain white scalp, inked in keyhole tattoos swirled in mechanical patterns.
Little did these people know, they did not stare at tattoos. They stared at tragedy. They admired murder, the pain, and forgotten splits of horror that now Threshold bore alone. She was the single beacon of victims’ travesties, and yet the enduring justice to those who commit such crimes.
The people of that town could never know that the fear they felt did not come from her look alone. It came from a primal terror. Her very soul contained hate, malice, and cosmic affliction. . .
I pitied her in that light. And I pitied those people.
If only they knew what she’d done. How many she had saved from the wrath of monsters and murderers. Perhaps their stares would have been in awe—reverence.
“You are staring as much as the mortals,” she said, eyes held forward still on the road ahead. “Why?”
Paws damped by the park grass dew, I trudged in a horrid attempt to keep pace. I managed to say, “Just thinking of Nebill, or the others. . . or Venefica.” I was in stride with her, finally. I continued, “Do you hear them?”
“Only when I listen.”
“She threatens us, curses at us, tears at my reality with her cosmic might.” Threshold’s boots dropped down to the street and clicked along the brick road. I transitioned as well. “Venefica ponders the flavor of our blood. Both taunt and promise.”
“How much longer can you hold her?” I glanced back, across the park, to the far side of the square—where between two evergreen trees a three story orphanage stood tall sandwiched by the boarded up flower shop and a dreary old saloon. “She’ll come for the girl.”
Threshold set her jaw. She stopped dead in the middle of the street—on which not a single horse nor carriage rode by. Her blazing red eyes met mine, “How long?”
I opened my palm. My top crystalized, and spun for a few seconds before falling. “A few days, likely.”
“She will escape before this. Even then, when we do blip, I won’t be able to contain Venefica with the release of that amount of energy. She’ll escape regardless, and Proxima Peridot will lead to the the same road on the next world as we march to here—battle.”
Proxima Peridot Theorem was simple: often times, the closer you were to another Agglomerate during a blip, you’d appear relative to them in the next universe. Sometimes you could be holding hands and blip, and reappear still holding hands. Other times you’d be several meters separated, or a town apart, all dependent on the matters in which space and time moved.
What Threshold meant was that if Venefica escaped during a blip, she’d still appear near us and incite an incident. If she let loose the Vicar prior to the blip, we’d have to fight.
Either way: war.
“I wish to speak to these walls,” Threshold motioned to the ruined buildings and piles of rubbles from demolished sites. “After, I say we travel as far as we can. Gain favor with a mighty magi, perhaps attract aid. I have a plan to prepare a prison. But Venefica must be weakened prior.”
“I like that,” I said. “We can choose the place, set the trap, ready the field so to speak. Then, you’ll release her.”
I said, “I prefer those chances to blipping and facing her blind. There must be a magi somewhere in the next hundred kilometers or so.”
She strode across the street and over the sidewalk to the piles of ruin. A group of small goblins scurried away, dragging a large kettle with them. A trio of teenaged humans lie with backs against the opposite building, legs resting against the rubble.
The building collapsed inwards, with walls smashed down onto of the floors and roof checkered throughout. As if smashed to a flat plain by a ten meter mallet, the rubble was barely even rubble, anymore—merely a mashed display of a building’s skeletal remains.
I climbed up the small step of brick, concrete, and shattered wood swiftly. Threshold followed behind. She floated up the two meter steppe rather than climbing. The moment her boots touched the ruins, her red eyes glowed even brighter than before.
“. . . Giants,” she said.
I turned, “What?”
Threshold spun on her heels, cloak in trail like a hurricane. Her eyes glared into the rubble ground. She said, “This place was destroyed. Not by crane or pick or hammer. By the stomping of great legs, which hold the bodies of mountains. Giants.”
“How do you know of such things?” said a goblin leaning on a stairway. The small pink creature waddled across the ruins. “Stranger—outsider. You are from out there, yes? Beyond the reaches of our home, here?”
I nodded. Threshold did as well.
“This place is not kind to those with such. . . eccentric qualities,” she eyed Threshold up and down, and gestured to my rodent features. “Be careful. Those with minds in the mystic arts are not treated well by those who fought in the wars.”
“Are there any such minds left, here?” I said.
“Asylum. We aided a young child from a demonic fiend. We wish only for housing.”
Threshold added, “We have fought giants ourselves. No need to fear us. Our city, too, had been scarred by their thunderous steps.”
With eyes in consideration, the goblin then pointed a long nailed finger to the opposite side of town. “Far down the mainstreet you will come to the bank building. Surrounded by crumpled factories you will see Main Hall. Mayor Mitchell is a mystic of your sort. Perhaps he will speak to you. Perhaps not.”
We bid farewell to the goblin female. She glowered as we departed.
We passed beneath a broken building—held up only by what seemed to be temporary pillars of wood now turned permanent by community apathy. A spiral pole of white and red indicated this to be a barbershop. When I looked back, I actually could see a man sleeping in his own barber chair. It seemed he did not expect a patron, or, at the very least, did not care if one arrived.
“No windows,” I said, eyeing most of the buildings. There were very few windows outside of storefronts and the occasional second floor viewing port.
“Why use glass if quakes are so common?” Threshold said.
I inquired further into what the broken walls whispered to her.
She said, “Giants come in hordes. They stomp out buildings, devour flesh, play catch with civilians. They have warred for some time. It seems a prevalent threat in this world.”
“Strange we haven’t seen any. . .”
“I thought this, too. But look at these ruins,” she motioned to another massive alleyway carved by the smashing of a building. “This is not new. None of these wreckages are. Perhaps these wars waned.”
“Perhaps they have.”
A white marble bank came into view ahead. The entire building was tilted to one side—as if lifted in the air and dropped down lopsided. Several of the ten front pillars, which reached ten meters into the air, were cracked like splinted bone: stable enough to bear weight, but ready to shatter should one apply more force.
The Main Hall shone like a single brick of red clay. A towering, utilitarian, windowless structure as cubicle as could be. The massive bunker of brick stood alone with a single bronze plaque some three meters long above the door, reading, “Main Hall.”
“Let us speak with this Mayor Mitchell,” she said. “I have a proposal.” She strode across the empty street.
I yelled after her, “Giants versus vampire?”
She turned over her shoulder, “You speak as if it’s entertainment.”
“Simply because something is serious doesn’t mean its not entertaining.” I scurried after her, “That is what you were thinking?”
She admitted, “Yes.”
“Let us speak with this Mitchell, indeed.”
The Mayor’s office bathed in light from a skybox above. Not a window around, though large mirrored shelving units reflected the light across the space, and dazed me upon entry. The shelves were lined with all manner of specimen: skulls, bones, jaws, and the like. All skeletons and fragments of skeletons.
Mayor Mitchell was a lanky goblin a hair taller than I was—which was considered quite impressive amongst his kind. His long pink ears draped down and back, pressed so by the large black top hat on his head.
Mitchell sat on his desk, swinging his legs to and fro. I sat before him. Threshold floated.
He smiled through his bandaged face, “Apologies for the lack of a face to the name, eh. Had quite the accident last month and still haven’t gotten the nerve to reveal my new scars.”
“No apology necessary,” I said.
My whiskers picked up a hint of scent. There was dust, and wood polish, and old parchment in the air. A terrible odor wafted amongst the old time smells. A pinch of rot.
A pinch of death.
“What kind of accident?” Threshold did not hesitate.
Without offense, Mitchell said, “Defenses against the giant forces require fearlessness in my experiments. Do not work with explosives, I will tell you that. I should have been more careful. No matter!” He curled his white gloved hands into a ball, and rested them on his lap, “You are outsiders seeking asylum?”
We told the secretary that cover.
I corrected, “No. Not seeking asylum. We are magi belonging to a mighty order.”
“In our possession,” Threshold joined, “lies a mighty fiend. A great devil which feeds upon the blood of her disciples. A Vicar of a monstrous house.”
“We aren’t in need of housing,” I said. “We need assistance. We were told you are a ‘mystic,’ which I assume to be a magus, magician, wizard, so on and so forth?”
“I indeed work in the supernatural arts.” When he said this, the air swirled with rotten flesh again. I typically would have brought my scarf over my nose, but didn’t want to show suspicion.
“This Vicar will escape her prison. We believe we could seriously injure her. Potentially bind her to a weakened state,” Threshold motioned to the mirrors around the room, “This place is a prison for the eyes. There is no escaping one’s own stare in a mirrored chamber. You look nowhere and everywhere at once. I wish to construct a prison which will have a similar effect on this Vicar—a torture chamber in which her own soul and mind will drive her mad.”
“But,” I leaned forward, “for this to work, this Vicar needs to be severely weakened. She grows in strength in her current prison. When she is released, she will be awake, and thirsty for blood and souls.”
“Where exactly is this Vicar?” Mitchell scoffed, “You brought this devil into my town? After all we’ve been through—you trudge here carrying a monster! Where is she? I demand to know!”
Threshold tapped her forehead, “Each of these locks is a dimension slid beneath my skin. She is imprisoned within my own soul. No need to yell. Your desperation does not impress or intimidate me. A wounded animal screams. A predator in victory eats in silence.”
Mitchell’s eyes glared through the bandages. A deep hue of blue, they shown so bright to nearly glow in the mirror light. He set his jaw beneath the layers of wrappings.
Peculiar. His eyes did glow.
The Mayor said, “I cannot help you. My power is in study. I am a man of science. Animals. . . I enjoy anatomy. Building animals from the carcasses of the dead, taking them apart, so on and so forth. I do not think my power could be of much help.”
He said this disturbing line with unassuming candor. My eyes wandered across the collection of bones once again: more museum than collection.
That explained the death smell. Though, I did wonder, where exactly was that smell coming from? Bones did not stink the way flesh did. And I smelled flesh.
“You raise the dead. Necromancy.” Threshold said.
“Yes,” Mitchell said. “Hobby alone. I barely practice anymore.”
Playing with the dead may sound disturbing, but think of burial, mummification, and the many ways in which most mortals preserve the dead. There are so many who touch death each day. Necromancy and its many other names was, oftentimes, not malicious. In fact, in nearly every case I had ever seen across my cosmic travels, necromancers were either scholars or curiosities. Rarely did they live up to the reputation that such a perverted profession could induce.
Even then, I speak with a prejudiced, “perverted.”
Wishing to return to track, I said, “We ask for your aid. And we will aid you. My associate here will release our Vicar upon the giants. The ensuing battle will weaken her greatly, we hope, while also eliminating your threat. But we must find these giants first. And we must be far from civilization in the event that the Vicar turns her fangs on civilians.”
“The giants are dead. All destroyed in the war.” Mayor Mitchell said. “I am sorry, but they are gone. We have been slowly recovering since the final battles, and developing defensive measures in the event of a return. But we do not know where the remaining—if any remain—giants are hiding.”
Threshold said, “Excellent news for your people, Mayor Mitchell. I am pleased to hear you are, for now, free of such tragedies.” She encircled the desk, “Is there any location remote enough to be safe? Any specific shrine, abandoned village, old mine, or the likes?”
“We have ventured from the east, and saw only woodland. What lie westward?” I said.
“Do not go west,” said the Mayor. “There lies farmland! Far too many farms to risk such an event. They are territorial out there. Don’t move west at all. My advice? Equip one of our abandoned factories in town. Go nowhere too far. Construct your prison here, at the edge of town. It is free of all pedestrians but full of. . . toys that could be of use.”
I eyed Threshold.
She did not question his logic. Instead she asked, “What is the address of your preferred factory space?”
“1140 Old Rathen Avenue. Building 4—though it is the only building still standing in the lot.”
“We will scope out the space. Should we use this building, be aware that it will likely be demolished in the battle.”
“That is precisely why I suggested it.” Mitchell seemed to smile underneath his bandages. “I extend blessing in your quest, travelers. I wish we could help you more. If I knew the giants’ locations, I’d certainly love to watch your devil and our problem face off. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to attend to some taxation issues. If you need anymore assistance, stop by.” And Mayor Mitchell quickly shuffled us out.
Once in the street, Threshold and I grazed the street signs for any indication of the aforementioned address. We marched down the ways, where no one else walked, and where the streets lie so empty that they’d lost all purpose to the few people who still existed in town.
“We are not going to that abandoned factory,” Threshold said. “I’d prefer to see what is in here.” She motioned towards a large, fully functional factory down the lane from the bank and Main Hall.
“Strange of him to suggest unleashing the Vicar in town, when farmlands would naturally be the superior choice.”
“And strange for a town quite devoid of pedestrians to have an operational industry in its midst.”
“Two ’stranges’ in a row: coincidence or—?”
“Something is amiss, here.” She floated to the factory door. I followed.
At the painted blue door, two large men smoked tobacco beside a goblin friend. I walked up to them, “Hello there, my friend and I come from outside your borders. We have slain giants—no need for suspicion. We were curious as to the location of 1140 Old Rathen Avenue?”
“Why’d you want to go there?” said the goblin, taking a puff of the cigar. “Whole place is covered in cobwebs.”
Threshold interjected, “What exactly does this factory produce?”
“Used to be toys.”
“And what now?”
“Tools,” the goblin coughed. “Picks. Hammers. Equipment for the fields.”
“For the farms, then?” I said.
He shot me a queer glare, “Yeah, farms.”
Threshold said, “You judge the term.”
“Wouldn’t call the fields farms, miss. Wicked Mitch’s project has nothing to do with corn or wheat.”
“Wicked Mitch. . . not a flattering nickname for our Mayor.” I said, “These fields of Mitch’s are to the west?”
We left the factory workers and turned west. We passed more broken buildings. Horrifying homes. Toppled townhouses. Crushed corner-stores. Tilted towers. The westward avenues were most demolished. The giants must have came from that direction. I could still see the ten meter footprints beaten into the brick roads.
On the horizon rose a long hill, which stretched end to end. And a forested blanket draped across the edge where the orange sun shone in hazy light. The fields were past those trees.
“Wicked Mitch?” I said. “Did you smell the rot in his office?”
“Indeed. Did you sense the lack of a heartbeat?”
I shook my head.
“He was not only a necromancer, Opaline. It seems this Mayor Mitchell is undead. Freshly so. . . I wonder what he hides from us.”
When entering the wood, the orange sun reflect through the mist. If I hadn’t known it to be fog, it would seem more like a sandstorm from afar. The forest spread in this carpet of smog as the sun fell further towards setting.
We came to the peak of the hill, and broke through the wood. And in a valley low and wide the smog hung in orange glory, creeping between archways of white stone. Hundreds of arches. Thousands of structures.
“By the stars,” Threshold cursed.
These titanic white structures spread across the entire land. At first glance, it appeared a perfect field. But the closer I looked, and the more the smog crept between the archways, the sooner I realized that these structures were abnormal, asymmetrical, organic.
The fog cleared.
A skull. Twelve meters tall, same in width. Titanic eye sockets were mined by two hanging workers.
Those structures weren’t arches.
They were bones.
Titanic, enormous, giants’ bones.
“Mayor Mitchell’s project,” Threshold said.
“Harvesting bones?” I stepped forward for a closer view. The operation was massive. Hundreds of workers. Thousands of giant bones. “I don’t think his necromancy is a hobby.”
“No. . . I don’t think so at all.”
“TILL THE BONES,” a voice boomed across the land. “TILL THE BONES,” the voice boomed once again.
A great brass horn stood lonesome in the center of the field. A tiny little man stood beside the horn. He blew into the instrument, “TILL THE BONES”
My heart stopped.
“TILL THE BONES.”
Through the orange haze glistened blue strings. Only a hint of blue—a shimmer, like glitter, rising into the sky from each worker’s limbs. With each blow of the horn these strings glimmered. They faded until the next chant.
“TILL THE BONES.”
Strings. . . puppets. . .
“TILL THE BONES.”
The Mayor’s eyes, his undeath, his wrappings. . .
Mayor Mitchell was a puppet. An undead doll.
And I knew the puppet master at work: “Polly,” I whispered.
Things suddenly grew far more complicated.
END, to be continued. . .