Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Halloween Tale #3

One last scary tale, specially picked for Samhaine!

He woke as twilight fell, rising from his bed to greet the coming darkness as he had every night for nights uncountable. Daylight was a distant memory, like the sound of his wife’s laughter or the sweet smell of his daughter’s hair as she hugged him tight. He existed now only for nightfall, for the time of the hunt. His preparations didn’t take long, his overlong hair tied back with a bit of leather, his clothes the same as he wore every night, his grey beard in need of a trim. As he tugged on his coat he caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror and barely recognized the man he saw there. Weathered, worn, as threadbare and tired as his soul. He went to find a meal.

He could feel their eyes on him as he stepped into the tavern, heard the silence ripple through the room with him at the centre of it. It wasn’t a friendly silence, it never was. Even those who didn’t know what he was could sense he was dangerous and were afraid, wanted him to go away and take the darkness with him. It was the same in every place, he’d long stopped caring if they liked him or not. After all he wasn’t here for them; if he prevented their deaths tonight it wasn’t out of love or compassion, merely coincidence.  He was here for Her.

She awoke just after sundown, her body’s bizarre biology demanding complete dormancy until all trace of sunlight was gone. The transition to consciousness was always shockingly quick, eyes flying open and every fiber of her being screaming with hunger. She hated it, the sudden slam of awareness and the sense of loss, as if she’d been torn from a perfect dream she couldn’t quite remember but still yearned to return to.

She changed into a new gown, taking a moment to admire the delicate lace at the sleeves as she checked it for stains. She prided herself on her eating habits, but sometimes a drop or two of blood would escape her notice. Not this time though, the gown was pristine, soft lace and softer velvet, so pretty.  She smoothed her hands over it lovingly, enjoying the rich flow of it beneath her fingers. She brushed her hair until it gleamed in the candlelight, knowing the lilies she had surrounded herself with as she slept would perfume her hair and skin.  She laughed softly at herself for the affectation.  Lilies, the flowers of death, wicked girl.

 He ate in silence, the course bread gritty between his teeth, the thin soup grey as dishwater.  The broth dripped from his beard and back into the bowl, seasoning it with his bitterness. A weevil skittered over his fingers and dropped into the soup to drown. He ignored it, lost in his own dark musings. He was preparing to hunt.

Velvet rustled over the frozen ground, her eyes soft and lips smiling as she stepped into the marketplace. The heady scents and raucous calls sent her senses reeling. Warmth bundled beneath jackets and hoods, blood surging beneath their skin. So many lives calling to her, filled with the promise of divinity, a moment of rapture so pure she sometimes wept as it took her.  A palsied hand brushed her sleeve; an old woman grinned toothlessly as she offered up charms, potions, protection against ailments, evils and all things godless and dangerous.  She bought one, slipping the talisman into her bodice as she paid the crone and thanked her.  Her laughter nearly bubbled over as she let herself fall back among the crowd, knowing she was the most godless and dangerous thing for many miles.

Copper coins tossed down on the table as he left, knowing they’d speak of him after he had gone. The whispers and rumors of madness and violence that always followed him. He stepped into the night and sighed, knowing She was out there, awake now and hungry. He’d not been this close to Her in years, not since the beginning times when neither of them had mastered their trades. He’d made mistakes back then and She’d escaped him.  He’d hunted for Her ever since, killing all the others. Others like Her, some stronger, some weaker.  A dark legend hunting dark things. He’d had a name once, but that was a part of the sunshine times. Now he was just The Hunter.

Outside the cold bit deep, his fingers stiffening, aching in protest. He drove them deep into his pockets, wrapping his hands around the handles of the blades hidden there.  He stalked through the streets, oblivious to all but the hunt. The crowd seemed to part before him, letting him pass by without looking, without wanting to see.

The pulse and throb of the lives around her were a tantalizing whirl, she could smell the perfume of their warm, sweet bodies and it made her body ache with hunger. She stilled her mind and sent out her call, a siren song that promised comfort to ones who suffered and peace for those damned by an uncaring god.  Again she called, walking slower now, waiting. She felt one approach, drawn by her summons. Aged and ill, she could smell his pain, sensed the blood run sluggishly though tired limbs.

“Alone” His mind whispered to hers.  “I do not want to die alone.”

Wordlessly she reached out, took his hand and squeezed it.  She led him away, into the darkness, helping him when he stumbled.  In the quiet night she cradled him close, soft fingers stroking his brow as he leaned into her, craving comfort. She whispered his name as her lips brushed his cheek.

His voice quavered as he spoke a woman’s name, longing and loss woven into the word.  

A pinch’s worth of pain, then rapture, bliss, sweeter than honey, warmer than sunshine.  His mind and hers; a moment of divinity shared, then the parting. She lowered his corpse gently to the ground, healed the wounds with a drop of her own blood, touched his cheek tenderly. She moved on, back into the crowds. His life was still sweet on her tongue as she began the hunt again.

Blood spattered the alley, stained his hands. He’d found one of them, so lost in the thrall of its feeding it had not heard him as he drew his blade. A blade blessed by priests, a holy weapon against unholy things. It hadn’t bled, only gasped in surprise as its head slid from the body, turning to ash before it even struck the ground. The blood had come from its victim, still breathing, begging for the creature to come back, to touch her again. Impure, infected, she died whimpering in confusion, fear blooming in her eyes as the blade flashed down. He left the body where it lay, heard the rats stir in the alley and knew they’d be feasting soon. He slid the knife back into place and continued the hunt.

A scent teased his nose—lilies.  He frowned, a memory rising, he pressed it down. It rose again, the scent of molten beeswax, death and lilies, the sounds of sobbing, a priest’s prayers. An old pain flared, searing his soul with new agony. She’s here, so close.  The memory receded and left him colder, emptier. That’s when he heard Her calling him, Her voice rising out of the ashes of memory, promising him peace. He went towards the summons, his fingers curled around the hilt of his blade. 

He found her in an old courtyard, ivy everywhere, a single torch flickered. She sat by a fountain, the spray forming a shimmering halo of torchlight around her face, sparkling like diamonds on her gown. He stepped out of the shadow, pain rippling through him as he saw her. She was beautiful, untouched by time, every feature etched into his memory.  Bloodstained hands drew the blade from its sheath.

Her eyes widened in recognition, lips parting. “Hello Papa.”  A whisper of velvet over damp stone as she stood, arms outstretched. 

“Monster!” he croaked, lifting the knife. “Unholy creature!” 

Her lower lip dented as she bit it, eyes full of sadness, “my poor Papa.”

“You are not my daughter! She is dead, gone, buried!  You are not she!” He railed against her words, the blade rose higher.

“Hush Papa, let me help you,” she stepped nearer, the scent of lilies surrounding them both. 

“Monster,” his voice cracked, the blade in his hand dipped then lowered. His eyes met hers and a sob tore from his chest.  “My baby is dead.” 

She folded him into her arms, crooning softly. 

“She’s dead,” he repeated.

“I am dead,” she brushed the knife from his hand gently, the chime as it hit the stones strangely muffled. “Dead but not gone.”  Her lips brushed his cheek as she held him close. “It’s time to rest now Papa.”

He closed his eyes. There was a pinch’s worth of pain, then rapture.