Friday, June 23, 2017
I wasn’t looking forward to traveling during winter. But, we had to go. There wasn’t anyone we could send word to in Golgotha to look in on John, to make sure if he was all right. All we had to go on was Tristan’s vision. And, it’s always been my experience that they are uncannily accurate.
The longer we were out on the trail, in the cold bitter winds, with the snow pelting our faces, the more I wanted to dig a hole, curl up in it and sleep until Spring. Or until the frosts claimed my body and froze me whole and killed me.
But…if I did that, knowing my luck I’d come back as a hungry ghost, and haunt my brothers in arms.
Tristan rode silently next to me, head down, the brim of his Stetson hat blocking much of the blowing snow, not to mention his field of view, which in our line of work, could . At one point, I caught him sleeping, his head nodding down, making him jerk awake and grip the horse’s reins tighter.
His horse surprisingly tolerated it. Mine would’ve let me fall off and kept on going until it found shelter. The jerk.
I pulled my wool scarf up over my nose, annoyed that it kept slipping down. My toes and fingers were numb. He had to have it worse though, he never was good at dressing for the weather.
“Hey, maybe we should find a place to stop and get a fire going,” I said. “My toes are going to freeze off soon if we don’t.”
He glanced over at me. “Sure.” He sounded out of it, like he was talking in his sleep.
“Tristan, I’m on fire.”
“Tristan, I’m stealing all your money, and am about to stab you and leave you to bleed to death in the snow.”
“Sounds good,” he murmured.
“Hey.” I leaned over and shoved his shoulder and he looked up, startled.
“You fell asleep on your horse.”
“Oh. Ah…yes. Sorry.”
“We should find a place to stop for the night. You need to sleep and I need to warm up my toes before they get frostbit.”
We plodded on. The snow was getting deeper and deeper the further north we rode. It was only going to get worse.
“How about there?” he asked and pointed.
In the distance, along the tree line, there was an old cabin. The roof had caved in on one half, but it still covered a bit of the structure.
“Good a place as any,” I said and reached back to scratch my shoulder and hissed. It was starting to really irritate me again.
“Are you all right?”
“Fine. Let’s get the fire going.”
I hopped off my horse when we got there, and yanked the door open. It got stuck halfway open on the snow.
I stepped in, looked around. There was a small fireplace, a falling apart wood table, and a bed covered in snow. One half of the cabin was water damaged, and the roof timbers had slid to touch the ground.
But, the cobblestone walls still stood, so, it was better than trying to set up a lean-to in the forest. Tristan tied the horses up around back, out of the wind and fed them while I draped our canvas tarp up around the support beams of the roof to block out the snow that drifted in from the hole in the roof.
I had to stop when my shoulder twitched. The itching was hard to ignore. It got worse at night. Always worse at night.
Tristan stepped in, took off his hat and shook the snow off his duster while I started the fire in the fireplace.
“Looks like this was someone’s hunting cabin,” he said and sat down on the ground next to me.
“Fire wood pile in the back, well a little further off. A deer hide in the trees.”
“Definitely a hunting cabin then.”
“If John were here, he’d be out finding something to hunt for us to eat.”
We both sighed and I stood and rubbed my back against the wall and hissed in relief.
He shook his head and dug out some rations.
“I’ll go get some snow, we can melt it, get some water to drink,” I said.
He wasn’t usually this quiet. It was a bit unsettling.
“Fine. Just tired.”
I nodded and grabbed a small pot from my gear and went out and filled it with snow.
The wind picked up, pushed against me, and I thought for a brief moment, that I heard someone calling my name. I looked around. The sun fast setting. The sound of snow pelting my hat was the only thing I heard.
“Get a grip on it Rourke,” I muttered and rejoined Tristan inside.
With the fire going, some hard tack in my belly, and clean water to drink, I felt a little better. I took off my socks and put my feet as close to the fire as I dared and sighed.
“Better?” he asked. He hadn’t said a word for over an hour.
He shook his head no.
“Want to talk about it?”
“Not really. But…you won’t stop bothering me until I do.”
I chuckled. “Yeah, that sounds like something I would do. Come on man, it’s just the two of us. You can speak your mind. I won’t be offended.”
“What? I’m not upset with you.”
“Hard to tell, to be honest.”
“Well, I’m not.”
“What then? Your feet still bugging you?”
“Yes, that’s part of it.”
“Then take off your boots and dry them by the fire, and put some salve on your little toesies.”
“You think you’re cute, don’t you?”
“I am a very handsome man, but this has nothing to do with it. If you don’t take care of your feet, they won’t take care of you.”
He sighed. “You’re right.”
“Come on over,” I patted the blanket next to me. “Put your feet up for a while cowboy, and let me regale you with tales of glory and plunder.”
He rolled his eyes and sat next to me. He took off his jacket and hung it next to mine, which was currently dripping dry. Then he took off his boots and set them on the hearth. I could see blood spots on his socks.
“Oh, ouch! Man, you really got it bad.”
“I will. And there’s nothing you can do to stop me.”
“Oh, I can think of a few things. Tie you up and gag you so you shut up for a time, and I can get a decent night’s rest.”
“You wound me sir.”
“You talk too much.”
“Tristan, we have hardly said a word to each other all day.”
“Hm. I guess you’re right.”
“Come on, take them off, don’t make me manhandle you and coddle you like a bairn.”
He gave me a wicked look that said if I did that, he’d definitely kill me.
I laughed nervously. “I’m just kidding.”
“You are half kidding. Half of the time. Always jokes with you. Never serious about anything.”
“I am so serious. I am very serious about a lot of things. Food, women, taking care of my friends. I could go on, but you say I talk too much.”
He sighed, pinched his nose by his eyes and closed them.
“You should rest. Take care of your feet and get some sleep. I’ll babble incoherently to myself for a time and pass out.”
He sighed. “Lovely.”
“Am I talking too loud?”
“No. I think it’s the weather, or maybe this place. I don’t know…I-I have a lot of my mind. It’s wearing me down.”
“I can tell.”
I reached for my bag and dug out a fresh pair of socks and some salve. I got extra because I just knew he’d need it and forget to purchase some from the apothecary before we left Solomon.
“Here,” I said and tossed them at him.
He stared at them and picked them up. His harsh expression softened. “Thank you.”
“No problem. I kind of figured you’d need them, so I got it before we left.”
“Is that what you were doing in there? I thought you just wanted to flirt with the clerk’s daughter before we got going.”
“Well, that too, but you know, two birds, one stone and all that.”
He chuckled. “She liked you.”
“I know. If we had wintered over in the city, I definitely would’ve gotten to know her better,” I said with a wink.
He smiled and shook his head and took off his socks and set them on the hearth.
His feet were cracked on the bottom, long lines starting to fissure from in between his toes, and up from his heels. If he didn’t get that healing up, they’d stretch all the way across them by the end of the trip.
It’s happened before, but he didn’t say anything until he couldn’t walk on them anymore without limping and giving away that something was wrong.
“You know, if this happens so much, you really ought to think ahead. Try to nip it in the bud before it gets so damn bad.”
“I tell myself that every time. And yet, I always manage to forget and neglect them.”
I smacked the back of his head. “Learn a new habit. It’s called…proper hygiene.”
“I am not dirty.”
“Your feet are delicate. You need to treat them like they are and stop being so damned stoic about it. Accept it. You have lady’s feet.”
“I do not.”
“Do so. They’re soft and pale white, like porcelain and ever so delicate, like early spring flowers. Lady’s feet.”
“Rourke, I swear to Sophia I will punch you into next week if you do not shut up.”
The wind blew into the cabin, and I heard a woman’s voice say, “Rourke. Help me.”
I stood up.
Tristan paused, looked up from rubbing salve on his sore feet. “What was that?”
“A woman. In the wind. Her voice. Cold. She’s suffering.”
“I gathered that.”
He put the salve down and grabbed my arm when I went to look outside. He shook his head.
“Don’t go out there.”
“We’re in the middle of nowhere. And the wind is calling your name. This time of year? Has to be a hungry ghost. Ignore it. Go out there and you’ll get devoured.”
“Good point. I’ll uh…put more logs on the fire.”
He nodded, went back to nursing his feet. He really had it bad. I felt sorry for him. He glanced over at me, pursed his lips.
“How’s your back?” he asked and I felt the skin twitch around the wound, and it started getting prickly, I had to reach back and scratch it. I couldn’t ignore it any longer.
“It’s the same. Gets worse at night. Always itching. Hurts like hell too. Drives me nuts.”
“I have an idea,” he said and took some snow from the pot, shook the melting water off and gestured to me. “Take off your shirt.”
“Just do it.”
I took off all the layers I was wearing; jacket, sweater, another sweater, long wool shirt and long underwear. My torso and arms now bare, I shivered. Goosebumps rose on my skin.
“Damn it’s cold.”
“It’s about to get colder,” he said and took off the wound dressing he had helped me tie on before we left a few days ago. He pressed the snow against my wound. I could feel the ice melting and running down my bare back.
I shivered, and sighed. The pain, the itching, stopped. It soothed it. Numbed it wonderfully. I felt my whole body relax. Muscles I didn’t even know were tense started letting loose.
“Oh my gods you are a beautiful man.”
He chuckled. “You’re welcome.”
I sat there, him holding snow against the gash in my back and closed my eyes, shivering, yet not in pain. I could deal with the cold, if it meant the damned itching stopped.
I dozed off, and leaned back against him, he made a strange sound and shifted his weight and I jerked awake.
“Sorry,” I mumbled.
“It’s fine. I didn’t anticipate that you’d lean back so far.”
“Oh shit, did I hit you someplace sensitive?”
He laughed. “No, just elbowed my stomach. It’s fine.”
I grimaced. “Sorry man.”
“It’s all right. Don’t worry on it.”
I sat up, yawned, stretched. My back was still wonderfully numb. I could see where he scooped out handfuls from the little snowbank that had built up inside of the cabin under the hole in the roof. He must’ve been doing that for a while.
“You were sleeping so nicely, I wanted you to rest.”
“Tristan, you are too kind. Aren’t you tired?”
“I slept on my horse most of the afternoon, remember?”
“Oh, right, I guess you did.”
His right hand was wrinkled from being in water too long. He had taken a kerchief and tied snow up in it, and held it against my back. For a few hours at least.
“You know, you could’ve shoved me off and just tied that on me and replaced the snow when it melted.”
“Yes. I could’ve. But…you got salve for my feet and no one asked you to, so I wanted to repay you.”
“I guess that makes sense.”
Something started scratching on the window shutters, and we both stopped talking. Tristan immediately went for his sword and unsheathed it. I crept over, silently, and peeked out the window, pulling a throwing knife out of my belt.
At first, I thought I saw a long spindly clawed hand raking across the shutter. But, it was nothing more than a tree branch.
I waved at him to put his sword down and sheathed my knife.
“It’s just a branch. Wind must’ve knocked part of the limb down. That’s all.”
He visibly relaxed and put his sword back. “I thought perhaps it was a winter wight.”
“Isn’t it a little early for them?”
“Not this far north.”
I pulled the shutter closed and rushed back to the fire, shivering. “Damn that wind is bitter cold.”
“It really is. I hope we don’t end up riding into a snow storm. That would be awful.”
I took another blanket out of my travel bag and wrapped it around me and huddled up next to the fire.
Tristan sat next to me. “You fine now?” he asked and nodded at my back.
“Yeah. It’s fine at the moment. Thank you. I haven’t really slept much since it happened. Fitful dreams, the pain…and the itching. Doesn’t really make for good sleep.”
“I gathered that. You look exhausted.”
“So do you. Well, you know what’s bothering me, but what’s on your mind? What’s keeping you up at night?”
He shrugged. “I don’t know. Many things.”
He sighed. “Rourke. I…ran into some trouble on the way to Solomon.”
“What? Why didn’t you say something when you got there? You expecting someone to come after us?”
“No. They won’t be coming for us. I made sure of that.”
The tone of his voice, so flat, so dead. That far off look in his eyes. It made my stomach sink.
“Talk to me. What happened?”
“After John and I parted ways, I was in a foul mood. I wasn’t careful. I went to the wrong town. Got spotted by someone. It got ugly.”
“Oh no. Who was it?”
He made a face, shifted his weight, uncomfortable with this conversation.
“It was a cousin of mine. My uncle’s son. Barnabas. I hadn’t seen him in years, but he recognized me right away. I was in the bar. Drunk. Hating the world. Hating myself for getting into a fight with John. Hating what you would say to me about it. Everything.”
“It’s not your fault. You were trying to stop him from doing something suicidal. I don’t blame you any. I would’ve done the same damn thing.”
“No. You wouldn’t. Not like that. You would’ve talked him out of it, like you always do. I don’t have a gift with words, not like you do. I’m all force, no parlay.” He held his hands together in his lap, rubbed one over the other, absentmindedly.
“Don’t be so hard on yourself. You’re allowed to be pissed off at him for being stupid. You know that, right?”
“So what happened in the bar?”
“He pulled up a chair next to me and started chatting. I wanted to be left alone. He wouldn’t shut up. And he told me…he told me what my family was planning. To do. To me.”
I raised an eyebrow. “Oh?”
“Word got back to my father somehow. He found out I was still alive. He put a bounty out for me to be returned to our House. He wants to turn me in to the Imperial Guard. They’re looking for more psychics. They want me in their ranks. They’re getting desperate.”
The whole reason he left home, was to avoid that. I didn’t know all the details, but I had heard some things about what they did to people like him. It wasn’t pretty.
Harsh training, brutal, deadly, and if you survived it, you weren’t the same, just a mindless drone for the Imperator’s army. No personality left. At all.
Tristan had faked his death and left home soon after he learned that his parents were discussing his abilities. He thought that he had hid them from them, but someone figured it out. This was before he started sleep walking and channeling people. That was a relatively new thing. Started up a few years ago.
“Barnabas wouldn’t shut up. He wouldn’t. He was making a scene, trying to get me to show him my gifts. I…I slammed his head against the table. Too hard. I knocked him out with one hit. I accidentally let my anger get the best of me.”
“Oh no. Your fighting magic…you used it without thinking.”
“Yeah,” he said softly. He sounded so sad.
“Did you kill him?”
“No. But I could have. I left him in a coma Rourke. My uncle won’t forgive me for that. He’ll come looking for me. They all will.”
“Well shit. That complicates things. I mean, I don’t have issues with fighting a minor Noble House but damn. Yours is a tough one. House Montebalm is the strongest of the Imperial Cousin Houses, mystically speaking.”
“I am aware.”
“I mean, you guys are direct descendants of House Andiron. So closely linked that their fighting magic is in your blood.”
“And you have a lot of relatives. Like… a lot.”
He punched the floor, left a deep depression and I scooted back. He was angry enough to talk now…talk or beat the shit out of me.
“So what are we going to do about it?”
“I…have no idea.”
“That’s what you’ve been thinking about? That’s what has kept you so quiet for days since we started out on the road?”
I rubbed my hands down my face. “Great.”
“Don’t apologize. Your cousin was a dick for doing that. Was he drunk?”
“Not as drunk as I was.”
“You’re a mean drunk.”
“I can be, yes.”
“You should’ve come straight to Solomon. You should’ve sent word for me to meet up with you sooner.”
“Yeah. I should’ve. But…I didn’t want to see you. I didn’t want to talk, to anyone. I was so disgusted with myself.”
Tristan had a bad temper. It took him a while to really get angry, but once he did? People, or furniture, got broken. I’ve seen first hand what can happen.
He’s a complicated man. I mean, I am too. We all are. But, when the three of us traveled and worked together, things were alright. We meshed well, personality wise. Apart? Not so much.
I guess I was the one holding us all together. Without me there to talk them down and smooth things over, things got too heated and they got into a physical altercation.
I put a hand on his shoulder. His stormy grey eyes met mine. Emotions flashed on his face. Anger, sorrow, frustration, fear.
He was scared.
All that anger, stemmed from fear.
“Listen to me. And listen close. You aren’t a bad man. You just made some poor choices that led to some misery. We’ve all been there.”
“Not like this you haven’t.”
There it was, that scratching again. This time, on the door to the cabin. We both slowly looked over to it. I saw a hand, a pale, white hand, with long jagged fingernails, scraping down the door. It had reached inside, just enough to pull its fingers against the wood.
“You see it?” Tristan whispered.
“Do they work in pairs?”
“So just one?”
We moved slowly.
I crept close to the door, pulled out several of my knives, eyes trained on the hand as it kept scraping against the door. The arm was long, impossibly long. I saw that the elbow was far back in the snowbank. It was reaching down from the roof. My eyes flicked up, I saw a hunched over figure in the faint fire light that shone on the roof. A crooked smile, full of broken teeth, emaciated human body, head against a shoulder, its neck broken, bone stuck out of it. Ice for blood flowed from the wound.
I glanced back and motioned to the roof. Tristan nodded, grabbed his sword.
We’d have to move fast. That thing could manipulate its limbs, lengthen them at will.
It’s cold dead ice blue eyes were staring right at me. The wound in my shoulder itched, and the sensation grew stronger and stronger. I gritted my teeth, waited for Tristan to step close to me.
“I’ll take the door,” I whispered and nodded to the hole in the roof.
“On it,” he said.
In a blink of an eye, I had thrown all of my knives into the wight’s arm and pinned it against the door.
It yowled in pain. Tristan bounded up the collapsed roof beams effortlessly, jumped on the roof and sliced the wight in twain. It screamed, shrieking loudly and leaped off the roof into the snowbank, it yanked its arm back, and it broke off. The hand and arm still pinned against the door, twitched, turned to snow and melted.
I retrieved my knives.
Tristan was out there, I could hear him hacking away at it, and it screamed.
“Damn it.” I threw on my long-coat and went outside, barefoot, hissing as the cold snow bit at my skin.
The wight had grown taller, at least double the size of a normal man.
Tristan had sliced it up several times, but it had reformed, leaving a scar of pure ice where the wound healed back up.
Soon, it would be covered in them.
“Go for the head!” he shouted at me. “The fetter is in there!”
Tristan summoned his fighting magic, I felt it stir the air. Make the hair on my arms stand up. His hands glowed gold, an aura of the same color outlined him as he ran forward and started slashing rapidly, his sword a blur.
I stood back, waited, and after a moment, the wight’s head landed in the snow nearby. I picked it up, avoiding the gnashing jaws, and grabbed its loose skin and yanked it off, revealing a skull with a magic sigil on the forehead.
“Gotcha,” I said and sank one of my knives down into it, shattering the sigil.
The wight screamed and thrashed, as its body turned to snow and melted.
I saw out of the corner of my eye, a shadow, a silhouette of a woman, wafting up into the air with a sigh as it left this mortal world and entered the land of the dead.
“I hate wights,” Tristan said, panting.
“I gathered that. You didn’t waste any time.”
He nodded, leaned on his sword, magic spent, his physical energy waning as well.
“Come on, let’s get back inside. My feet are numb. Again.”
He shuffled behind me. Worried that he’d collapse in the snow, I made him go inside before me. He slumped onto the ground by the fire, dried off his sword and sheathed it.
I put back all my throwing knives, grabbed my blanket, wrapped it around him and myself and we huddled together in front of the fire.
“It’s fucking cold,” I muttered.
“It’s winter. What do you expect?”
“Sunshine and roses.”
He snorted and we laughed. Both tired, worn out, weary, and chilled to the bone. There was a handprint on his arm, frostbite, burned through his shirt, into his flesh.
“It got you.”
“I know. I had to act fast, or it would’ve killed me before you even got outside.”
Well…sor-ry! I had to grab a jacket or I’d be out there almost completely exposed to the elements.”
“Yes. I know. That’s why I had to move fast.”
“I thought you didn’t like doing that maneuver.”
“I don’t. It’s exhausting.”
“You’re just young. You need to age, get a larger magical reserve or something.”
“I don’t think that’s how it works.”
“How does it work then?”
“No clue. Never learned. My teachers were always short with me. Acted like I was stupid most of the time, because I couldn’t quite grasp what they were saying.”
“Well…that’s dumb. Because you’re not slow, or stupid. Just different.”
“What, that was a compliment.”
He shook his head, looked up at the ceiling, like he was pleading to the heavens. “You’re welcome by the way.”
“Thanks for saving me from being frost bit to death. You're a real pal.”
“Enough with the sarcasm.”
“You were burnt by the wight. Let me wrap it up.”
I grabbed some bandages and put some salve on his burn and wrapped it up. He said nothing. Just watched me do it, then moved his arm under the blanket and shivered.
“Oh, now you’re cold?” I asked and started putting back on my clothes so that my torso wasn’t exposed anymore. It was getting really cold out there.
“Wind shifted,” he muttered, the blanket pulled up around him, and lowered his head so it covered part of his face.
“I’m going to go check on the horses.”
Thankfully, the horses were fine. They were sleeping huddled together, covered in their blankets. I refilled their feed bags and went back inside.
Tristan was sleeping sitting up in front of the fire. I gently moved him over so he wouldn’t fall into it if he slumped forward and sat next to him. I grabbed the other end of my blanket and wrapped it around me and shivered as I warmed up.
“They know we’re coming. They don’t want us to find Jon,” Tristan said. His eyes were closed.
“Are you asleep?”
“No. You woke me up when you moved me aside.”
He shrugged, looked at me with tired eyes. “We’re walking into a trap, you know that, right?”
“Yeah. I know. Which is why we’re going to keep on trekking. We need to get to Golgotha. Then we’re going to find him, and get the hell out of Dodge, before things get any worse than they already are.”
“You really have a great way of jinxing us, you know that?”
I laughed. “I guess. But I’m always doing that. Wrong place, wrong time, my whole life.”
“That, my friend, is quite the understatement. I just pray that our presence here doesn’t attract anything else that is undead and hungry before morning.”
I shivered. I didn’t like the way he said it. It was ominous. Foreboding.
“You really have a way with words, don’t you?”
“No. That would be you.”
I shook my head and slept very little until dawn broke. Neither of us said much as we got the horses ready and set back out on the trail.
I was worried about John. About Tristan. About myself. Things kept piling up, and they weren’t getting any better.
I couldn’t shake that little voice in the back of my head, that was telling me that by the end of all of this, we’d all be dead.
Read Part 3: Dead Man's Pass Here
Wednesday, June 7, 2017
Almost all of the fish were dead and floating in the corner of the tank where the pump sucked water in. Their bodies covered in sores. Only one was alive, and it was gasping and swimming in a slow circle at the bottom of the tank. Strange black worms that looked like thin threads were poking out of its gills every time it opened its mouth to pump more water across them.
“Oh. Shit.” I took out my phone and called Kiki. I got a busy signal. She must be chatting with Jason. “Damn it.” I hung up, took a pic of the fishes and texted her, then waited for a reply.
As I stood there, the poor little bluegill shuddered and sank to the bottom of the tank, where the body started inflating rapidly.
“What the hell?”
I stared as the fish’s scales lifted straight up off its body like an obscene porcupine, and its body bloated up and up and up, like someone had attached a balloon pump to it, and then, it just, exploded.
I jumped back.
Water splashed onto the floor. The tank water became even cloudier, and I could barely make out hundreds of black and white worms squirming about it. I saw a few of them start to burrow into the frayed chunks of fish flesh that had landed next to the side of the tank.
“That can’t be good.”
Shaking my head, I called Frankie. His phone rang for what felt like forever before he answered.
“Yes Becca?” he shouted.
“Frankie, we have a serious problem over here.”
INFECTION: CADDIS INITIATIVE PHASE ONE to be released by Bloody Whisper Books in summer of 2017
Sunday, June 4, 2017
Hey guys! I'm happy to share with you the very first entry of my new 12 Part horror serial, THREE THIEVES OF NIGHT, a weird west gunslinger tale of epic proportion, with rugged cowboys, vampires, magic, and horrible curses.
THREE THIEVES OF NIGHT PART ONE: OLD WOUNDS NEVER HEAL
“You ever have a wound that hurts so bad, it itches? And the more you scratch it, the more it hurts, and the deeper it itches? Well, I do.”
“Sounds serious. How did it happen?”
“Wish I could say how I got it, but my memory of that particular night is hazy at best. Whatever attacked me, was huge. Some sort of wild animal got into the walled city of Concordia and started picking people off. Half-eaten corpses started showing up.
I was called to the city by the Council of Seven. They wanted a report on my hunting group’s findings. We were hired by the council to investigate rumors of a vampire infestation in one of the neighboring towns. Long story short, they were there.”
“Oh, so you’re in the monster hunting business, huh? I hear that the bounties are good money.”
“They can be. As long as the people that hire you pay for it.”
“True, true. Take off your shirt, let me take a look a it.”
I removed my shirt and sat there, annoyed. The wound sitting over my right shoulder blade, twitched. I grimaced. It took all my will not to jump up and start scratching the hell out of it.
It was so prickly. Something wasn’t right. That’s why I decided to get it looked at by the local proctor.
“You have an interesting set of scars there mister. How’d you get them?”
“Believe it or not, I got them the same time as the one on my back there.”
“Care to elaborate?”
“You want the short version or the long version?”
“Whichever you are more comfortable disclosing to me.”
His answer annoyed me. Dealing with anyone in Solomon was a pain in the ass. The freehold city was run by Grangers, and they were the most tight-lipped people you’ll ever meet. They not only keep to their own, they keep a lot to themselves. Takes way too much prying to get them to say anything about anything half the time.
In Concordia, people will give you their opinion whether you ask for it or not.
“Right. Well, Jonathan Esten, Tristan Montebalm and myself took care of the council’s vampire problem, and since the other two had business to tend to elsewhere, I ended up representing us and going back to the city of my birth. Terrible idea. The councilmen don’t care for me, for a variety of sordid reasons that I honestly don’t care to get into at this time.”
“I thought you sounded Concordian. Beautiful city.”
“Yes. I know. Ivory statues and all that.”
“So rare to see a redhead from there.”
“Yup. I’m an odd duck. Thanks for noticing.”
The doc walked around to the other side of the exam table to look at my back.
“I’ve never seen stitches like these. What was used?”
“Silver wire, if you want to get technical.”
“Whoever would do such a thing? That’s highly irregular.”
“The Saint of Sinners.”
“It’s the god’s honest truth. I kid you not.”
“I hear tell that she is a real piece of work.”
“You have no idea. Before you ask, let me say this—just about everything that you have heard about her is true. She is a tough-as-nails, swearing, fornicating, living saint, and she is very good at hunting monsters and putting them down. And in Concordia, she used me as bait.”
“Now that’s terrible. Why would she do that to a fellow hunter?”
“Honestly? I have no idea. If I hadn’t had to go there alone, I would’ve been fine. I would’ve had my brothers-at-arms to watch my back for me.”
“Which hunting group you work with?”
“They call us the Three Thieves of Night, on account that we have been known to infiltrate a vamp nest quietly and kill them before the head vamp figures out what is going on. It’s satisfying work. At least, it was. Up until we had to split up. Together, we’re a force to reckon with, each with specialties that make up for the other’s weaknesses. For instance, I’m not the strongest man, not by a long shot. But I’m fast, agile and flexible. I can break in to just about anything.
“But, if cornered and pounced on in the dark by a giant beast? Yeah. I didn’t stand a chance. Sometimes I think I would’ve been better off if it had eaten me. I had the misfortune of being rescued by the Saint of Sinners.
“When I came to, she was sewing the huge gash in my shoulder up with thread made of silver metal. The ones on the front were already sewn shut. The thing had jaws so big, it bit down on my shoulder and left gouges in a semicircle down around my chest, stopping where my ribs end and over my pectoral muscle, like it wanted to bite a huge chunk out of me and get my heart in one savage chomp.
“Most of the bite wound scabbed and healed, except for the large jagged gash on my back at the shoulder. It must’ve yanked me and savaged its jaws, clamping teeth down and shaking back and forth. That’s the only way something like that could happen unless it had a tongue as sharp as a razor blade. That was always a possibility. Gods know that stranger things exist in this world.”
“Indeed. She do anything else when she was sewing you up?”
“The Saint of Sinners put one of her holy medallions in the wound, said a litany of prayers to Sophia— Goddess of Wisdom and Light, Protector of Mankind, yadda, yadda, yadda—and patched me up. She said it would most likely prevent me from turning into another one of those beasts.”
The doc walked back around.
“What kind of beast was it?”
“She claimed that it was a werewolf, but I have never seen a bite like this, and let me tell you, I have seen my fair share of werewolf attacks.”
“Interesting, maybe it’s a new breed?”
“Maybe. Or something older than time or some such nonsense. Anyways, since then the wound has itched like hell. It’s the only spot that hasn’t healed up right.”
“That is quite the story.”
“Yes, it is. So, think you can help doc?”
The local surgeon looked dubious to me. But he was the only healer in Solomon, and since winter had set in, it was highly unlikely that I’d be able to travel over to Trafalgar and get it taken care of properly by someone at the apothecary.
“Werewolf you say?”
“Something like that.”
“Well, Mr. Rourke you do have an interesting set of scars, and the wound on your shoulder is stitched with silver thread…”
“Hey, when I said that I wasn’t making this up, I meant it. Seems to me that you are implying that I am not.”
“Oh no, no. Not at all. It’s just that, well, there hasn’t been a feral werewolf sighting in these parts in quite a while. But there was an outbreak on a trail that left Trafalgar not too long ago. Terrible business. Crashed before it could make it to Eugenica. The head Granger’s son was on-board.”
“I hadn’t heard about that. Then again, I haven’t been this far southwest in quite some time.”
“Stop scratching it,” he said and slapped my hand away.
“Can’t help it. It itches like hell.”
“Well, old folks wisdom says when a wound is healing up good, it itches like that. So, most like, your wound here is close to being healed.”
“But it’s been like this for over a month. Prickly and fierce. I tell you, this isn’t like a normal healing kind of itch. It’s too deep, too persistent, too intense.”
“Over a month huh? How deep did it bite you? If its teeth scraped bone, that could explain why it’s taking so long.”
Ugh. I never should’ve even bothered taking the time to walk over here in the snow. Like most docs, he was near useless when it came to things like this. Wouldn’t even acknowledge what I was saying to him about it.
“Here,” he said and reached up over my head, taking something off the high shelf. “This salve will calm the itching. Just put it on as needed. I’ll write you up a receipt for it, so if I’m not around, someone can make more of it for you.”
I took the glass jar from him, opened up the screw top lid and smelled it.
“Honey, soft wax, chamomile, and ginger. It’s a family recipe,” he said.
“Sounds more like something to eat than a salve.”
He chuckled. “I suppose it does.”
“What do I owe you?”
I paid the man and left, shaking my head. I got halfway back to the hotel before I had to stop and rub my shoulder on the corner of a brick building. The itching stopped, for a moment.
Maybe it was all in my head?
Upon entering the hotel, the perky girl running the counter smiled at me.
“Rourke, your friend has arrived.”
“Dirty blond, big gray eyes, broad shoulders, not quick to smile.”
“Yes! I gave him a room key, as you requested.”
“Thank you ma’am. Say, anyone ever tell you that your smile shines so bright, it lightens up a whole room?”
She giggled and blushed. “No sir. Thank you for the complement.”
“You’re welcome. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to make my leave.”
She laughed and called after me as I went up the narrow wooden stairs, “You’re a ridiculous man, Mr. Rourke!”
“More than you know,” I muttered to myself and reached back to scratch the part of my shoulder that I could touch easily.
It just didn’t stop. The longer I went without scratching it, the more it hurt, and the more intense and overwhelming it itched.
The urge to scratch it was getting harder to ignore.
If that salve that snake oil salesman gave me doesn’t work, I’m going to rip open the stitches to see what the hell is under my skin.
Sighing, I opened the door to the suite of three rooms that I had rented out for the winter. I saw some of Tristan’s travel bags on the floor by the entrance. Dark brown leather, with a horse emblem burned into it. It was his family’s crest, from the old country. The Montebalms weren’t a Noble House, but had enough power and money that they were respected by those of the Imperator’s bloodline.
Tristan came from a long line of sensitives, psychics that receive visions of the past, future, and sometimes the present if something horrible is about to happen to them or one of their loved ones.
That gift, combined with his large, sturdy, muscular frame, made him a force of nature at times. It was amazing when he really got into the thick of battle. His movements are so fluid, the strength of his arms made his sword sing through the air, it was almost as though he could sense his prey’s next movements when he was in the middle of the carnage.
I saw his eyes once, during an intense battle with a particularly nasty, old vampire lord. They were blank, as though he was in a trance and his mind was somewhere else. He was seeing without seeing. Moving without thinking. Slaying as easily as you and I breathe.
Unfortunately, as impressive as he was during a skirmish, he wasn’t the most subtle of fellows. When you really needed someone to walk so quiet that not even a shuffle is heard, he will stomp on through like a bull in a china shop. I’ve tried teaching him how to roll his feet, how to step down gradually, walk softly, as though you were almost floating over the ground.
It didn’t work.
That man has the flattest feet in all of God’s Green Acre, I swear.
Tristan had hung his duster long-coat and boots by the wood stove in the main room of the suite. They were dripping wet from the snow. He had started a fire and set his travel clothes out to dry.
At least he had enough sense to do that, and not trek puddles on the floor. I hated steeping in a snow puddle and getting my socks wet. Made my feet cold.
I pulled off my own boots and long coat and set them down by the stove, brushing off the snow that I missed when I had come into the hotel. I hooked my Stetson hat on one of the empty pegs and ran my hands through my shaggy hair. I have needed a haircut for months. Most likely wasn’t going to get a proper one from a barber for a while.
“I’m in here,” he called out. I followed the sound of his voice to the room he had chosen.
He was sitting on the bed and was in the process of taking off his socks and investigating the bottoms of his feet.
“More blisters huh?”
“Looks like. A couple at least.”
“Well, either find yourself a horse that doesn’t mind walking in the snow, or break down and buy a pair of sealed boots to keep the water out.”
“Isn’t that John’s line?”
“He isn’t here yet, so I thought that I’d say it for him.”
Tristan frowned and looked up from inspecting his feet.
I leaned back against the door frame and rubbed my shoulder hard on it. I may have involuntarily hissed in relief at that point.
“Wasn’t he supposed to be here by now? I could’ve sworn he said that he would meet us in Solomon the second week of winter.”
“It’s not like him to not be where he says he shall be.”
“I know that. He was supposed to be here two weeks ago, if you want to go by an actual calendar. When he didn’t show up, I decided to go ahead and rent the suite anyway. Mayhap he was waylaid. Roads get treacherous this time of year.”
“He was going to take the train over. Hey, stop that. You’re making me itchy just watching you.”
I stopped using the doorway as a scratching post.
“Sorry, I just got this itch that won’t quit.”
“You get someone to look at it?”
“Local doc, but I doubt what he gave me will work.”
“Let me see.”
“Rourke, I dreamt this. Let me see.”
My stomach sank. He already knew that I was attacked. Or, more accurately, he knew that I had a bad wound that wasn’t acting right.
This did not bode well.
Last time he dreamed of me, well, let me just say that I barely survived that encounter. If he hadn’t come when he had, I would’ve been dead.
“Hey,” he said when I just kept standing there, frowning. “We’ve traveled together how long? I’ve seen you buck naked plenty of times. Why get so shy about just taking your shirt off?”
He had a point.
“You have a point. But, don’t be surprised by what you see. Even if you dreamed this situation, the wound looks odd.”
“I am aware of how my abilities work, thank you. I know that my dream might have some details wrong. Doesn’t mean anything other than the fact that the message was garbled before I received it.”
“Right.” I started unbuttoning my shirt. I didn’t look at him, just stared at the floor. At my patched up socks. The darning stitches zigzagged across the tops reminded me of the stitches on my back.
“Rourke, what happened in Concordia? Did you run into trouble there?”
“Something bad always happens when I go there. I was born there, so the spirits get all riled up when I come to town. You know that.”
“I’d say it wasn’t the city’s spirits, but the people who get their feathers ruffled when you show up, seeing as how the Council of Seven let you be their scapegoat for years.”
“Please, don’t bring that up again. I’ve heard enough that for a lifetime.”
“They left you hanging when you needed their support the most. If I hadn’t been there…”
“I know, all right? I know. And I’m sure that you will never let me live that down.”
“That’s how we met. You’d think the encounter that forged our friendship would be more poignant to you.”
“Oh, it is. It is.” I slid the shirt off and stood there, holding it, letting it hang limply in my hand.
Tristan grew still. As quiet as someone like him could get.
“Sophia save you. What did that?” he sounded genuinely surprised.
“I don’t know. I didn’t get a good look at it. The Saint of Sinners said it was a werewolf but, I’ve never seen a lycanthrope make a bite like this before.”
“Mmm…” he said as he walked around and stood behind me. I could feel his fingers lightly touching the wound. He hissed in a breath. I looked back at him. He stood there, eyes blank. Brow furrowed.
He was seeing what happened to me. He was using his psychic gift to see what he could learn about the attack.
He told me once when that happens, he sees through the eyes of the victim. So he was seeing what I saw that night.
A moment later, his eyes went wide and then focused on me.
“How—how did you even survive that?”
“I don’t know. I don’t remember much of it. Just bits and pieces. Did you get a look at the beast?”
“Just what you remember I’m afraid. A blur of dark fur, a hulking, heaving shape in the darkness, teeth, a lot of teeth, sharp burning pain, and a voice. A deep growling voice. Just before you passed out, it said something to you. Do you remember?”
I tried to think back.
“There was a sound, something strange, right after I hit the floor, before everything went blank. But, I don’t think it was a voice. Some animals make sounds that are similar to human speech, so it didn’t even register in my mind that it was actually saying something to me.”
“It was a voice. That much I know. What it was saying, is anyone’s guess at this point. I may be able to help you recall more, if you’d like.”
For some reason, my palms began to sweat, and I felt a flash of heat that comes right before I vomit. I swallowed, closed my eyes, waited for the nausea to pass.
“I don’t think that would be a good idea. I really don’t,” I said.
He put his hands on my shoulders. It was his way of trying to comfort someone. He’s not much for hugging. Which is fine by me. I’m not much of a hugger myself. Never have been.
“Rourke,” he said, his voice sounded so gentle then. “It’s all right. You survived. Sophia saw to it that someone intersected your path and saved your life. She made sure that you lived to tell the tale of the attack. You know that to be true. There’s no other reason why the Saint of Sinners would be in Concordia. You were meant to run into each other.”
“Tristan, she used me for bait.”
“You don’t know that.”
“Oh, I do. She said as much. She said, and I quote, ‘Now don’t take this the wrong way, but as soon as I noticed that deaths were happening in areas that you were seen hanging out, I knew that it would come to attack you. It was stalking you, ever since you stepped foot in the city.’ And may lightning strike me dead if I misquoted her.”
“I have a hard time believing that. She’s not—”
“Don’t tell me what she did or did not do. You weren’t there. You don’t know. She let that thing attack me, just so that she could get it in her gun’s sights.”
“Did she kill it after it attacked you?”
“Not right away. Couldn’t get a good shot in. The room was too cramped. She told me that she wasn’t counting on it being so fucking big. Her words by the way, not mine.”
Tristan tsked. “Such a foul mouth on that woman.”
“Tell me about it. Even worse, she drank me under the table before we parted ways.”
“Oh, you poor thing. How ever will you live?”
“Itchily,” I said and scratched at my shoulder.
“Sit down on the bed. I want to take a better look at it.”
“Maybe later. It’s been a long day.”
“Sit down,” he said and shoved me down on the bed by the shoulders.
He got on the bed beside me, his weight making the mattress dip slightly.
My skin crawled. My back twitched. I sat on my hands.
“There’s something under your skin here,” he said, touching it.
“Yeah, that’s one of the Saint’s medallions. She said it would help prevent the curse from spreading. Whatever that means.”
“Why aren’t you taking this more seriously?”
“I can’t say what that thing was, so I don’t know what it is that it may or may not have done to me. She said it was a werewolf, you say that it spoke to me, and I don’t remember any of it. Does the memory scare me? Hell yes it does. Does it mean that it was a monstrous beast, a demonic entity, or a werewolf? I don’t know.”
“It’s this kind of attitude that got you in trouble in Concordia, to begin with. Stop playing Devil’s Advocate.”
“I’m not. I’m just looking at all the facts practically. And everything I know, all the evidence I’ve seen, doesn’t point to anything conclusive. And until I get solid confirmation, I’m not going to say one way or the other what that thing was.”
“Fine. Be in denial. Once John gets here, he can berate you and beat some sense into your stubborn head. At the very least, let me remove these stitches and take that medallion out. It’s probably the thing that is irritating you so much that all you want to do is scratch your skin raw.”
“No. Leave it. I’ve seen your stitching jobs. I’ll let John do that. Just do me a favor and put that salve on and we’ll see if it helps. Hopefully, he’ll arrive in a day or so and take care of this for me.”
“What if he doesn’t?”
“Do you know something about where he went?”
“He didn’t tell you?”
“No. He just said that he’d meet me here.”
"Ah,” he said and wiped his hands on his thighs. Was he nervous? The only times I’ve seen him do that was when he had sweaty palms. Strange. “I see. Well then. That complicates things.”
“Tell me, or so help me, I’ll make you miserable until you do. And you know perfectly well that I know how to do that, so spill it.”
“If he asks, you tortured me for days with your incessant singing of horrible drinking songs.”
“Fine. Now, tell me.”
“He said that he received a summons from Golgotha.”
“What? Golgotha? Are you sure?”
No. Not there. Please. Any place but there.
“Sophia save us,” I said and made the sign of the cross. “I knew something was off, I knew he wasn’t acting like himself right before he left. That’s why, isn’t it?”
“It is. Someone related to him, or someone that was once close to him, I couldn’t tell for sure because he just implied it, but he said that that person couldn’t be ignored and that he had to go take care of a problem. That it wasn’t something he wanted us involved in. I tried to talk him out of it, but you know what he is like. Once he makes up his mind, that’s it. No way to convince him otherwise.”
“I do. Boy, do I ever. But, Golgotha? That’s in the heart of the Nightlands now. The vampire territories swallowed that city whole. Last I heard one of the vamp lords was running the show there.”
“That is, unfortunately, correct. I told him that I had an extremely bad feeling about it. I—” He sighed. “I actually got into a fight with him. I physically tried to prevent him from going. But, he left anyway, and he was quite cross. I thought that maybe he wasn’t here because he was still angry with me for punching him. I gave him a black eye. I still feel bad about that. I was hoping that he would come to his senses and understand why I tried to stop him from going. But…maybe he didn’t, and maybe he’s still angry at me for getting in his way and trying to prevent him from taking care of personal business.”
“I leave you guys for three days and you start fighting? Honestly. What am I going to do with the two of you?”
“I don’t know. If John survived his journey and made it somewhere he could send a message, don’t you think he’d at the very least gotten word to us to let us know that he was alive?”
“Yes. He absolutely would. Even when he’s furious, he takes the time to let us know where is he. There’s been a few times. Might not talk to us, but he’ll make his presence known.”
“And he has yet to do so I take it?”
“He hasn’t. At all. Ugh. This doesn’t bode well.”
“No, it does not.”
“You have any visions of him since then?”
“Not really. Just glimpses, but most likely that was because I was worried about him.”
“And you still have a bad feeling about him?”
“I have a bad feeling about all three of us now. Things are not right, and they’re only going to get worse.”
“In what way?”
“I can’t see it yet. The mists of time are clouding the future from me.”
Of course, they are.
“Well, no use worrying about it until it happens, right?” I said cheerfully.
“I’m going to go get us some food, right after you put that salve on my back for me.”
Tristan gave me a wry grin and without another word, slathered that stuff on me.
It tingled for a moment, and the itching stopped, albeit temporarily.
“That help any?”
“A little. Thanks, man.”
“You’re welcome. Let’s eat. I’m starving. The wind on the road leading here was biting cold, made me work up an appetite.”
“Then let's get some food in you and you can tell me all about your little adventure.”
“Sounds like a plan.”
We had a nice meal, over which he told me about the boring trip he took to a temple in the middle of nowhere, and the strange lady he met up with that needed his help. It really wasn’t that remarkable of a tale, considering what I had just been through.
Later, we sat by the wood stove, soaking in the warm glow of the fire, drinking whiskey and lamenting loves lost and women we never even had a chance of being with.
It was a typical night.
Our line of work makes it difficult to settle down anywhere. I know some hunters have families and wives that don’t care if they’re gone for months at a time, but that just didn’t seem right to me. If I was going to have a family, I wanted to be around to take care of it. To protect it. But, maybe that was just me.
Tristan stood up after a moment and announced that he was turning in for the evening. That sounded like a good idea, so I hit the hay as well—but not before finishing off the bottle of whiskey I bought us.
The only times I can sleep now are when I am so piss drunk that I can’t feel my face, let alone the wound on my back. It made the itching stop. Mainly because I couldn’t feel anything. I was warm, and numb. Pure bliss.
Since I was no longer sleeping in a place without an ally to watch my back, I thought that it would be safe to do such a thing.
Boy, was I wrong.
A horrible scream pierced my dreams and I startled awake. At first, I thought perhaps I was the one screaming before I realized that it was Tristan. Blinking bleary-eyed, I stumbled out of bed, onto the floor and crawled a few paces before I managed to haul my still drunk ass up to stand on unsteady legs.
“Tristan?” No reply. “Hey, you alright over there?”
I staggered out into the hall. It was still dark out. Faint moonlight shone through the window, throwing long menacing shadows into the hallway.
He was standing there, seething. His shoulders heaving. His back to me. But even with him not facing me, I knew that he was pissed off.
In fact, I’ve never seen him so angry.
“What’s wrong?” I slurred and took a step towards him.
He whirled on me, and I swear to all that is holy, his eyes weren’t the right color. They were glowing ruby red light. I kid you not.
“Uh…” I said and backpedaled as he stared at me with eyes that weren’t his own.
“I’ll kill you,” he said. His voice. That wasn’t his either. If I didn’t know better, I would’ve sworn that it was John talking to me.
“Tristan, you’re dreaming. You gotta wake up. You’re sleep walking again.”
I glanced behind me. Looking for something to use to wake him up, and spotted his travel bag. He usually kept smelling salts in there, for occasions such as these. Being a sensitive meant that when his mind was vulnerable, all sorts of things could use his body as a channel to communicate with the living.
“You bastards. I’ll kill you for what you did to me. I’ll kill you all!” he bellowed, John's voice coming out of his mouth. It was pained, guttural, and crazed with rage.
“Oh shit,” I said and ran for his bag, hoping that I could get there before he could reach me.
No such luck.
I took a few paces before he grabbed me by the shoulder and turned me around.
“Where do you think you’re going? Think you can outrun me? I’ll chase you to the very ends of the earth.”
“John? Hey, how’s it going? I wasn’t running from you, I just forgot to get something. Honest,” I said, hoping that it would either make him pause, or make Tristan snap out of it.
It was a gamble that I lost, poorly. I should’ve known better than to try to play that hand.
Before I realized that he was holding it, Tristan raised a knife over his head and slammed it into my chest. He rammed me back-first into the far wall, next to the door to the suite.
“You stabbed me,” I said, shocked. I looked down, blood was welling up in my nightshirt, staining it red. “You son of a bitch. You actually stabbed me. What the hell? I’m not the enemy here.”
He growled in wordless rage and tried to rip the knife out. His hand slipped on the bloody handle and I winced as he changed his grip and started twisting it, widening the wound.
The pain was too much and I just…lost it.
The wound on my back twitched savagely and anger seethed through me. All I wanted to do was to hit him until he stopped moving, forever.
“You, kill me? I don’t think so,” I said. My voice was muffled. Blood was pumping hard, pulsing in my ears. I could feel it surge through my veins, as though my blood was boiling.
I shoved the bigger man away from me with such un-natural strength that he landed on the floor on his back, with the wind knocked out of him.
I lunged at him and started punching. Seething. Seeing red. Blood pounding in my ears. Saying such horrible things to him, that I have no heart to repeat them here.
After Sophia knows how long, Tristan grabbed my hands and held them tight, forcing me to stop punching.
“Enough. That’s enough.”
I blinked and looked at him, confused. My hands stung, my knuckles were on burning. I was breathing hard.
My hands…the knuckles were bloody. Blood dripped from them onto his hands and face.
But, there wasn’t even a bruise on him.
I had punched the floor right next to his head, repeatedly, until the floorboard dented and snapped in twain. I cut my hands on the wood shards. Splinters stuck out of my knuckles in a couple of places.
“What?” I said, and all the fight drained out of me. “I-I don’t understand. What…what just happened?”
“Easy. Easy now. It’s over. It’s over.”
I stared at the hole in the floor.
“I did that?”
“Yes. Are you done?”
“Yeah. Yeah, I’m done.” I slumped, still sitting on his legs where I had pinned him to the ground. The wound on my back was pulsing, twitching, itching something awful.
A lump of sorrow formed in my throat. Tears welled up in my eyes.
I tried to kill him.
Tristan was like a brother to me. And I almost…I could have…
“What happened?” I asked, choking up.
“I snapped out of the trance when you shoved me onto the floor. You hit me so hard, it’s as though you just knocked the spirit I was channeling right out of me. You had me pinned to the floor, and you were snarling at me. Hitting the floor and saying horrible things in time with the punches. It wasn’t you. At all.”
“You attacked me. I was supposed to stop you, I was going to grab your smelling salts and snap you out of it and you stabbed me and then I…oh gods no. I-I tried to kill you. But why? I don’t understand. I just don’t.”
I felt as though I was about to start sobbing and crying like a baby. I was so close to breaking down, right there.
“Let’s move slowly here, away from each other, and sit against opposite walls for a moment. Let us clear our heads before we start shouting at one another, all right?”
“Yeah,” I said and nodded. “Yeah, all right.”
He slowly let go of my fists, releasing one finger at a time. I rolled off of him and crawled over to a wall and sat there, shivering for some reason. I wasn’t cold, but I was shivering uncontrollably.
I curled up, held my knees to my chest and tried to stop quaking in fear. My back felt swollen, like it had puffed up where the wound was, like something was trying to shove its way out.
Then I noticed that there was still a knife sticking out of my chest. The angle was just right, so that it hit a rib and didn’t puncture a lung or anything severe like that. Tristan was good at hurting people without killing them. It was a skill that I lacked.
I could hear him breathing raggedly, trying to slow it down, breaths harsh and fierce in the silence.
We both just sat there, stunned.
“What did we just do?” I whispered.
He shook his head.
“I don’t know. I’m still trying to process this.”
I ran my hands over my face and sat back, stretching out my legs.
“I woke up and you were screaming. I got out of bed, and you were in the hallway. But you weren’t yourself. You had been taken over by something, something horrible.”
“The voice, it sounded like John.”
“Was it him?”
“Tristan, was that John you were channeling? Was that him?”
“Then he’s in serious trouble.”
“I think so.”
“Did you, did you see anything? Or did you black out, like that one time?”
“I saw it. I saw it all.” His voice trembled. “I can’t speak of it. I can’t. Please, don’t ask.”
“What did he do Tristan? What did John do?”
“He didn’t do anything. It was done to him.”
He nodded. In the faint light, it looked like he was crying.
“Do you think he got away?”
“I don’t know.”
“Did that just happen, or was that something that had happened?”
“I don’t know.”
“Well, what do you know?”
“I need time to think. Please. Stop asking me questions. Let me sort it out in my head first.”
“I stabbed you,” he said, and he sounded so very far away.
“You did. But it’s not fatal. Just an annoying flesh wound, really. I’ll patch it up while you gather your wits about you.”
I stood up, swaying on my feet. I felt light-headed, not drunk at all. And I was hungry. Very, very hungry.
My stomach growled.
“I’ll be right back,” I muttered and went back to my room and lit up an oil lamp and inspected my hands. They were a bloody mess. Wood splinters stuck out in places. The skin around the knuckles was completely split open on both hands.
I’ve never hit anything that hard before.
I didn’t know where that strength came from, and that worried me to death. I sat there, shivering, more afraid than I had ever been of anything in my life.
Maybe the Saint of Sinners was right. Maybe it was a werewolf. And maybe, she didn’t remove the curse in time, if she was ever able to do so in the first place.
I looked at the knife in my chest and was seized by the sudden thought to kill myself. To end it, before I spread it to anyone else.
I pulled the blade out, stared at it, my blood smeared over the metal. It would be so easy, so quick, just to sink it into my heart. I was very good at that. I knew exactly where to shove blades in to kill people. And it’d be for the best, for me to end it.
I nodded to myself in agreement and went to shove it into my chest, to pierce my heart.
Tristan burst into my room and knocked the knife out of my hands.
“No!” he shouted and slapped my face, hard. “Don’t you fucking dare.”
Startled, I dropped the knife.
My cheek stung, but his words stung more. He never swore. Ever.
“Just let me end this. I can’t take it anymore. It’s too much.”
“It’s not too much, you’re letting dark thoughts cloud your mind. You aren’t thinking clearly. Something is messing with your head.”
“The way it messed with yours just now?”
“That is different. Mine was an external source, yours is internal. I can sense it, seething in you. Whispering terrible things. That is what was talking to me when you went berserk. I knew that it wasn’t you. You’d never say such things to anyone. You’re just not that cold-hearted.”
I closed my eyes.
“I’m so scared,” I said and trembled. Never had I felt more pathetic than right then.
“That’s normal, considering,” Tristan said. “You’ve never had something take you over like that before. You don’t know how to cope with it.”
“What is wrong with me? Do you know? Do you know what it is?”
“I’m not sure just yet. But I’m willing to bet that it is directly related to whatever that beast said to you when it attacked you in Concordia.”
“You really think so?”
“It’s the most probable answer. Considering what you have told me, and what I saw in your memories, I think it is highly possible that the beast, whatever it was, cursed you, and the Saint of Sinners knew it. She couldn’t get to it in time to prevent it from saying the infernal words, so she tried to reverse the curse in her own way.”
“Well, it didn’t work.”
“Or…it did, and you are dealing with the residual effects. Some curses are so strong that they stain souls forever.”
“Wonderful. So what should we do now? We can’t stay here, they’ll kick us out once they see what I did to the floor. Hopefully the rent I paid them for the whole season will be enough to pay for the repairs.”
“That is very true. I really don’t want to go back out on the trail and deal with more snow but, my gut instinct is telling me that John will know how to help you. He is highly knowledgeable about curses after all. Out of the three of us, he is the expert on infernal knowledge.”
“And John is in Golgotha. And he’s in trouble.”
“You were right to punch him. He had that coming.”
“No, I was not. It was not a good thing to hurt him. It just pushed him further away from us.”
“We should patch up that wound.”
“I’ll take care of it. You get dressed. I’m sure someone from the hotel will be up to see what in the hell is going on soon.”
Tristan nodded and stood in the doorway to my room.
“I’m sorry for attacking you,” he said.
“Don’t worry about it. It wasn’t you, and you weren’t really attacking me. So I’m not going to take it personally.”
He gave me a sad look just then.
“What? What’s that look for? Do I really seem that pathetic right now?”
“No. It’s nothing. I’ll get dressed.”
“We’ll find him, Tristan. We’ll find him and get him the hell out of there. I promise.”
“Yet again Rourke, you give your word about something that you know nothing about.”
“That bad huh?”
“Yes. It’s that dangerous.”
“Well then, it’s a perfect job for us, isn’t it?”
“I suppose it is.”
Read Part 2: Snow and Death Here