The Lore-Binding

1:

Carabelle watched closely, her big brown eyes catching the amber highlights of the hearth fire, as her father put the sword he finished yesterday over yet another flame, an eldritch flame of a magic that could turn out to be good or evil. But where the hearth fire danced with fiery scarves the shades of autumn leaves, this Lorefire, circled in stone, had the shades of a deep winter night when the full moon turned a snowy forest to hues of silvery blue.

She was conflicted. Mother had made him promise never to share the ritual of Lore-binding with her.

***************

“Too much could go wrong. They’ll turn her. They’ll take her, and she won’t be able to stop them. Then what would you do?

Promise me, Pim. Promise!”

He opened his mouth, but hesitated, tried again as she clutched his sleeve, her nails scoring his skin as her body arched slightly. She gasped twice, looking, her eyes hopeful, then widened in panic as she saw that he wouldn’t. She tried to hold on for one more breath but couldn’t. The promise remained unspoken, but Carabelle, standing just outside the door, heard her mother’s plea.

Pim, after a moment or two passed, suddenly turned into a blubbering heap; all Carabelle could do was go inside the small, cold room, hold him in her small arms, and cry with him.

When Carabelle looked up, her mother’s eyes were still open, still staring, still waiting…

**************

“The secret to Lore-binding, Carabelle, is a strong funnel. The spirits are contained behind all sorts of things that separate our worlds, and a Binder needs to be careful. They crave to interact with humans, reclaim that which they left behind, and some even dream of conquest.

“In the space between realms, if they escape the funnel there’s no telling what they’ll do.

“Some even dream of conquest.”

“Mom told you to promise never to show me this.”

“I know, and I wanted to, but I couldn’t because the times are too perilous. But you’re of an age now, and we had no son that I could pass this down to as a legacy.” He stopped for a second, the sword balanced across his hands, his eyes locked onto hers.

“Carabelle, are you afraid? If so, leave now, and we’ll never attempt it again. I’ll never speak of it again with you, and I’ll find an apprentice.”

Carabelle was tempted, every cautionary instinct shouting, but she finally shook her head. “I’m not afraid, Father.”

Pim nodded. “Good. Bring the funnel.”

It took both hands, slow steps, and great caution, but Carabelle guided the funnel safely into position, encircling the fire, snug against the perimeter stones. Pim nodded approvingly, and she felt a warm glow of satisfaction, tinged with guilt as it was.

“Now turn the hourglass. I have to close my eyes, sweetheart. Keep watch, and call me out of the trance immediately if something goes wrong. Don’t be afraid to wake me. Do you understand?”

Carabelle swallowed as she turned the hourglass, then looked at her father and nodded. “I understand.”

Pim nodded once. “Good girl.”

He sat on the floor, cross legged, and she did likewise next to him, watching in total fascination and not a little dread.

The blue flame popped and sizzled against the funnel glass, and he took a handful of it and encased the hourglass in it so it shared the boundaries, so it couldn’t be knocked over or broken by a sprite.

The flame around the hourglass intensified, grew brighter as if someone was lighting a blue-flamed torch from the inside.

Pim barely registered Carabelle drawing close to his side in fascinated fear, trembling, but she dared not look away.

The first of the spirits came through, blurred and amorphous. It was the color of old parchment, its misty hands casting about like a blind man lost in a strange place. Hovering between the funnel and blade, its empty eye sockets found her, and it smiled, but not in a pleasant way. Finally, it moved into the blade and was lost to sight.

Other spirits followed, their fogged features better defined though they all had no flesh.

There was a disturbance, somewhere out of sight; the blue light in the hourglass flared, and a rush of spirits followed, feeding themselves to the flame to avoid what was coming.

“Father…?”

Pim opened his eyes, saw the flame around the hourglass pulsing, and grew alarmed. “That’s not supposed to happen.”

Inside the funnel, the spirits were gone.

The face of Carabelle’s mother was floating inside now, spectral and fierce, and all the more terrible for the silent recrimination in her eyes.

Pim scrambled back as the glass began to crack.

The lives that will be forfeit now, husband, are on your head. Their blood is on your hands, charged to your immortal soul.

The glass shattered.

Carabelle screamed, drew herself up into a fetal position on the floor, and covered her face with her arms. She felt shards like pins in her sides and on her legs, and a couple of pieces into her bare forearms; there’d be cuts, but nothing life threatening.

A larger piece of the coated glass jetted across the floor and caught Pim in the throat, and his mouth worked fishlike as he tried to draw breath, his neck bathed in a red cascade of blood. Panicked, he only sliced his hands in a pointless attempt to remove it.

Incredulous at the suddenness of the mishap, kneeling as he weakened, he looked at the blue flame. His wife’s face dissolved, and roiling cloud of blue-white spirits poured themselves into the blade which was now turning blue, the runes appearing, but not the ones the Wizard commissioned.

That’s not supposed to happen…

His eyes searched for his daughter, and the sight left to him froze him with dread and profound regret at not speaking the promise.

A single blood red spirit with a jet aura glided over to Carabelle, still cowering and shivering on the ground; it turned and gave a feral smile to Pim as he died, and the last thing he saw was the spirit descending into her.

That’s…not…

The Servants

Watch the servants scurry; though they move quickly, they are a stealthy and observant lot.

Hold your tongue, or you may need to cut theirs out.

Set up well-paid spies among them, especially in the kitchen.

Keep them from windows, and out of proximity to the archer openings along the walls and stairs.

Limit their food.

Search their rooms frequently; their privacy is a myth, and nonexistent in your home.

Let them rest, that their service upon their return is better, and faster; beating them defeats the purpose, unless you enjoy it.

Pay them enough to provide for their families, but never enough to purchase their freedom.

Let brides be with their husbands on the night of their wedding; do not claim rights to her virginity, for a cuckold is a disloyal soldier, and a lifelong enemy. Remember that power is transitory, and fleet of foot.

Turn the females of the realm to your purpose. They will persuade the men through the art of love, or the arts of poison and assassination.

Keep the ratio of mercy to ruthlessness balanced toward ruthlessness, and they will be all the more grateful for the mercy. It may be possible to quell rebellions thus.

In the matter of public executions, read the crimes before the crowd, and use an experienced headsman. Keep them youthful, but train them to cut clean. The suffering of an improperly beheaded subject is unforgettable, and may induce fear, but it will be tainted with anger.

Show up at their superstitious festivals, and as they celebrate, scan for potential enemies. Those who attend alone or stand in the shadows should be rounded up quickly as possible, and questioned extensively, with violence if need be.

This is the way to keep peace within your walls, and the realm, with those who rely on your generosity for their survival, and indeed, their existence.

The Sandbox at the End of the Line

Autumn was changing to winter, and the station superintendent wanted to make sure the sandboxes were stocked in case of snow, so he sent me to check them.

There’d be six stations on the local line, which meant after I checked each one, I had to wait for the next train. Clipboard under my arm, and pen in my pocket, I set forth to see it done. It was after midnight, and with the trains at every forty-five minutes, I’d be done around 4 a.m.

**************

This drafty, empty tunnel holds a presence of eyes that can’t be seen watching my every move. There are more than one of them here, so what feeble light there is offers no comfort.

I’m on display, but am I also the offering?

There are whispers just beneath hearing, a vibration with a sibilant hum.

If they touch me, I’ll scream.

If they speak to me, I’ll go mad.

It doesn’t matter if I hurry.

Mercifully, they hold their silence, their muted malevolence no less felt; there are a few times in my life I’ve been truly frightened, and this is one of those times.

The box at the end of the station has a broken lock and rotten edges. It sits square and squat in the center of my sight like a crusty, slimy toad.

If I hesitate, I won’t open it.

I open it; it reeks of urine and rotten wood, but it’s full.

And is there anything, anyone, there beneath the sand?

I close the lid, and bear once more the watchful gaze of the unseen, their presence still felt, their whispering still vibrating.

There’s wind in the tunnel as the train approaches, the clatter of wheels on rails is an echo growing louder, and as the train’s dim headlights shine in the darkness the spirits use the surging, fetid air to flee.

I board the train, standing, and as it pulls out of the station, I see the lid begin to open…

 

 

True to Form

These cold and desolate nights have given me pause as I look into the last fire I’ll ever see. Behind the wall of flame, my lichen covered stone of black marble gleams with my name etched in fake, flaking gold, waiting below for my starved, broken body to shatter.

This is the fate that awaits me for my crimes.

***************

They tell me she was just a child lost and alone in the woods, her parents beset by wolves, but  I saw her true form; when she emerged in front of me after catching my scent, her scarlet irises pulsed with eldritch light, and her pupils flashed gold, suddenly, like a match struck in utter darkness.

It was then I felt the jolting pull of the void kiss my soul in greeting.

So I gave chase.

They told me later that she never ran, that I slaughtered her where she stood, hacking through her upraised arms, cleaving her skull, splitting her screaming mouth in a spout of gory blood and bone.

I swear by heaven, I heard her growl deep in her throat, and promise to savor the taste of my flesh.

**************

This last, most wretched dawn brings no warmth, and no hope.

The weak sun reclining among drifting, gray clouds is a filmy eye that gives poor witness to my insignificant demise.

The trod and murmur of the blood thirsty self-righteous grows louder, and my resigned soul stretches a sad smile across my lips; they will not find me weeping for me, but them.

A young priest drones pleas in a dead language to the celestial. His unseasoned voice is almost a light-hearted counterpoint and harmony to the bells that ring the news of my passing, a killer’s life fully extinguished with the last fading, echoing knell.

I lower my eyes from the unrelieved, unrelenting sky of slate, and see her specter still as stone among the crowd. As she smiles at me, the wound in her face opens, seeps, and her eyes turn scarlet and gold, never leaving my own.

The deep pit waits like a vulture’s nestling, and as I fall, I hear her laughter.

 

 

 

 

 

My Stolen Heart

She told me she loved me.

I believed her.

The love we made that night was torrid and heady, and when it was over I fell into a deep sleep, where she was spooned in my arms, wriggling teasingly to get me going again, knowing I couldn’t because I was spent.

  “You’re cruel,” I said, my smile buried somewhere among her hair, neck, and shoulder.

   She laughed, soft and low; something sounded wrong with it, but sleep pulled me under before I knew it mattered.

   

*******************

   A sharp fingernail raked my cheek, and I could feel the skin tear and split around it.

   I was dazed and groggy, and my cheek was on fire and warm with blood. When I sat up I could hear it patter on the sheet.

   “What–?”

   She straddled me, kissed me, then pushed me gently away like a dog that wanted too much attention.

   “What is it with you?” I asked. “Why’d you scratch me so–?”

    “Relax, baby.” She cupped my face, the pad of her thumb making circles, smearing the blood from the slice in my cheek over my lips.

    I tried to get up, but couldn’t.

   Blood spurted from my mouth, splattering her hair, neck and face.

   She’d distracted me with the scratch on my cheek, and I didn’t pay attention.

  She worked the blade into my chest with a butcher’s dexterity.

   I felt skin and muscle tear, veins sever, and tendons pop.

Opening my mouth to scream, more blood filled it and my tongue had no purchase to form words.

  With a playful smile pried the cut she made wider. Reaching her hand inside, she clutched my heart with strong fingers, her nails digging and slicing like five miniature scimitars as I felt blood cascading down my torso. She took some time, but she worked my heart loose.

    “Do you see what I did to you, baby?”

    She held it up in her hands; it was red and dull like a ruby plucked from a dusty mine.

    Her smile was beatific.

    “I’ve stolen your heart.”     

    She giggled again, the wrong sound beneath the lilt of it more prominent now.  

    As my vision failed, the smell of corrupt flowers and coppery blood grew redolent, and I felt her arms embrace me, pulling my bloody, cooling corpse against her.

    “I love you,” she whispered.

    She told me she loved me.

    I believed her.

Lyall’s Lament

The pain starts long before the shifting of limbs.

The blood heats, the senses sharpen, and there’s a surge of vibrations, like high voltage hummingbird wings, that makes you shiver as it drives you down to your hands and knees.

As if pushed out of the skin from the inside, the brindle hairs stab like a million tiny knives, the cracking of remolding bones racks us, paralyzes us as the full power of the moon rushes in like a flood, and we are helpless before it; it isn’t known, but that’s the perfect time to kill us.

The Lore Keepers watch, ready to slaughter the infected if any mutations hint of impurity; it has always been that way.

The pain itself eases over time, as the killing takes root, takes its toll, but it never fully ends; I suppose it’s the trading of human for canine, the regressing (or evolving, some would say), that makes it such an awful event.

I hate this life, this world we walk between predator, scavenger, and cannibal; there is nothing noble or proud about this, only the scent of the prey,, the heady wine taste of the blood in our mouths, the tough and tender gory chunks of its insides on our muzzles.

I regard us no better than dogs; our culling serves no purpose, save to scythe other paranormals. We should have been uniting, but one faction always seemed to relent.

Killing mortals would only bring attention, and my Alpha had already spoken about curbing our impulses at least once before; I didn’t want to be the one responsible for that.

In the rare moments I’m alone, I pray for the moon’s destruction, the world be damned.

Yes, the world be damned…

And me along with it.

Reflections of a Demon Hunter

It’s a bitter night, but for those like me the cold is nonexistent; there is nothing on earth colder than that of the grave. The dejected denizens of the poor side of town are plentiful as the litter, and add to the stink.

No one comes here to see about them, and the tears of solitude and sickness freeze on their dirty, unshaven faces, wrought by the twin hammers of age and abuse. The women’s eyes flash with practiced allure, all meant to lure the unsuspecting into a den of killers and thieves; but only the desperate come here, the ugly on the outside as well as in, and it’s just a matter of time after that.

Still, for all the real despair, there is an atmosphere of determined gaiety, to be content in the face of lack, and smile in the face of sickness, and laugh at the slow, impending death creeping up their ravaged bodies, incrementally breaking down their organs.

The smile of the Reaper never reaches his eyes.

We’ve not been here long, but we’ve made our presence known.

Most of them are still afraid of what we offer, but the tent cities keep growing and filling, and the luxury quarters that cast their shadows on the tents remain largely empty.

We see them too, in their track-lighted windows, their recessed lit bedrooms, their living shrines to modern technology with the laughable artwork hanging on the walls; we hear  the whirs and hums that accompany their moans and grunting screams.

They stink too, in their own way, believing their bank accounts shield them from mortality, when in fact, it only delays our claim; when we’re done providing them the service of clearing the tent cities, we’ll take the elevators into shelters they believe secure, but are as open to us as any tent flap.

Until then, there’s now.

So yes, continue casting out your huddling poor; the greed that drowns you in pleasantry, the natural resources you now claim by virtue of your wealth, means you’ll be that much healthier, fatter, believing you pose an actual threat.

We can wait. We’ve been here since the first act of fratricide, when the blood cried out from the ground. The cry woke us as well, and woke the hunger inside of us.

Already, we’ve dwelt in the rank and sweltering confines of our sulfur-filled cells, the connections to our former Realm snapped like brittle twigs, crumbled as thoroughly as a consumed ember in a blacksmith’s hand, the feathers of our blackened wings ever smoldering, ever molting.

And we grow angrier, refusing to acknowledge the profound sorrow of a devastating loss; so when Adam gave dominion to our Master, we pursued our replacements, tricked them, blinded them, and lead them away.

Our Father did not compel our love and fealty, but neither was Adam compelled; in the end, he didn’t seek to elevate himself, but accused Father of a mistake. Some say he sacrificed himself for his mate, but neither repented. Instead, the fools tried to hide.

Why were they not cast aside?

Why were they not doomed to share our fate?

He gave them a gift they couldn’t understand, but he’s willing to wait until they figure out how to use it. Then, and only then, can they go back.

Why should these frail, tender, weak things ascend to where those who came before can’t return?

And so we hunt them from below, and when they finally succumb to our beloved Bacchus, we drag their screaming, raging carcasses down to the fiery mire, holding their obsidian souls in our black talons, admiring their wretchedness in the blazing light before we set them adrift toward the swirling vortex of the pit, and watch until they disappear.

Then we begin anew.