Stuart sat in the chair facing the window for what seemed like an hour. He intended to read the book that he went through so much trouble to get, but the weather seemed far more interesting. The narrator, who was also the main character, droned on and on about insignificant details or events that, if cut out, would have trimmed the book to half of what it was. The characters may have been interesting, but their personalities were flavored by the narrator's point of view.
He pondered the feedback the book received, which was the whole reason he even bothered stealing it. Why are people kicking up such a storm over this book? It's not that great. Am I just too young? Stuart thought as he shook his head and threw the book on the loveseat across the room. He wasted a trip, which was a shame, because he felt the town was becoming aware of his presence in the shop, and visiting twice in the same week was far more risky than he would like.
He slumped in his chair and continued to stare out the window. The rain was pleasant, giving the grounds around the estate a thin sheet of fog, turning the vibrant green of the trees into a calming olive. Perfect weather for when he'd like to relax. Not so much when he'd rather be running errands. It wasn't long before he started getting tired of the view, and left to care for his grandmother Acacia; God knew if the servants ever did. Maybe the rain would lighten up by the time he finished. Legally, Acacia was supposed to be taking care of Stuart, but that was presumably before she was less 'eccentric' and more senile. Once her dementia became severe enough, and she became too weak, it seemed like Stuart was the one taking care of her.
He grabbed his supplies, crept as quietly as he could up to the door, and opened it just enough so he could see his grandmother. After confirming she was asleep, he proceeded with his routine. First, he would gather the drawings she drew during her episodes. The drawings were always the same; a combination of various sketches of either dead animals, usually wolves, cats, and rabbits, or other common animals, or a girl in a cage.
The animal drawings were the most grotesque, but they were also the most common. They involved the animals with an eye or two removed, or deep wounds, large enough to see the bone, but the girl in the cage was more… somber. The cage was iron-barred, and looked like something more becoming of a large dog, with the girl positioned either on her knees or in a fetal position. Her hair had covered her face, but she looked like she was Stuart's age.Her dementia was getting worse, so Acacia would always forget that she ever drew the paintings, which would scare her if she ever woke up to them. Stuart always feared that Acacia might suffer a stroke if she ever saw her own art again, so he had to remove them. Afterwards, he'd restock the desk with paper and ink. It was surprisingly important to keep her stocked with both, otherwise she'd resort to other, messy materials and canvasses. The remaining tasks were almost self-explanatory: empty the bedpan, dust the room, and prepare her breakfast for when she woke up. The real challenge was doing all of this without waking her up.
Admittedly, a good part of how Stuart learned how and why he needed to do all of this was from trial and error, but mainly, the knowledge came from the books he acquired. He used to take medical journals on the subject of bedside manner and the like until he felt he had a proper system to follow.
Once finished, he looked outside the window, and realized the sun would begin to rise soon; he needed to finish up. He set Acacia's breakfast down on her nightstand, left, locked her room, grabbed fifty-five pounds, and made his way to the front door to wait for Dr. Unsworth.
No matter how smart he was, Stuart was just a child, and he knew it. He could not maintain this house on his own, so he kept the same dealings his grandmother had set up exactly the way she had them. He had a grocer who would provide both him and Acacia with food, farmers who would rent Acacia's property, and then, Dr. Unsworth, currently knocking at the door.
"Hello? Mr. Hayward? Are you awake?"
He always assumed Stuart was in his tower. Maybe he thought that since Stuart was so groggy, he was just waking up. However, Stuart would be just now going to bed, since doing things were so much simpler when everyone else was asleep. Stuart usually let Dr. Unsworth wait a little, if only because he thought it was a tad humorous. Sometimes, the doctor would resort to throwing pebbles at his window, or say silly lines like:
"Hoy there, Stuart! Time to greet the day!"
Stuart greeted the large man at his doorstep. He was always full of energy whenever he came by; clearly a morning person. He was a rather portly man, which complimented his older age and snow white hair and mustache rather well. He was always dressed professionally, with a dress shirt, tie, and fittingly enough, both suspenders and a belt.
"Good morning Doctor."
"And to you as well! May I come in?" Stuart nodded, stepped aside to allow the man to enter, and escorted him down the hall.
"So, how are you today?"
"I'm fine. How's the wife and grandkids?"
"Ah, they're great! We've just started laying out plans for a tree fort over the summer. Planning on getting the supplies once they have finished their studies. Do you have any plans?"
"Oh, no. I'm afraid not. My schedule remains the same regardless of the season, so I must stay here. I must care for Acacia: you understand."
"Yes, about that. Stuart, we need to discus your grandmoth-"
"Fifty-five pounds, correct?"
Stuart pulled out a cigarette and a tinder box, and began to light. "Fifty-five pounds. That's how much you charge for your services, is it not?"
"… Yes, it is, but y-"
"Then if it's all the same to you, I would prefer to leave it at that in regards to her."
"Stuart, this is serious. She could cause serious harm to herself if she continues on like-"
"I already know what you are going to say, and the answer is no. You suggest putting her in a home, yes? You don't think I've considered that option already? I assure you, my care is far superior than what those… institutions could possibly provide. Have you ever seen those places? How miserable everyone is there? Because I have. She won't be happy there. That's enough cause to keep her here. Besides, if she goes, then I would have to too."
"She isn't safe here."
Stuart fell silent for a moment. He was going to correct him, but he realized that if he did, it likely would have been seen as hostile.
"This must end, Stuart; you are hardly older than twelve. I'm afraid that if her condition does not improve by our next appointment, I simply must have her relocated. It wouldn't be right any other way."
Stuart approached and unlocked her door.
"Fine. But for now, would you kindly just do your job?"
"Fine." The doctor sighed.
Stuart opened the door and closed it behind the doctor. He had other things to attend to, and he knew that the more he got involved, the worse the situation would be. He picked up his grandmother's drawings, and made his way over to the parlor to sit by the fireplace.He never enjoyed this process. Despite the rather grim subjects of the pieces, they were beautiful and quite different from most other styles he knew. Most painters were concerned with a more naturalist style, but Acacia was more simplistic. Despite having only the colors black and white to work with, her shapes and figures were surprisingly vibrant on their own.
Stuart always wished that he could save them all, but she never tired. There would never be any room in the house to hold every one of them, but that never stopped Stuart from preserving the ones he loved the most. As he looked through today's work, he found one that called out to him; a girl in a formal dress.
It struck Stuart as different from the others, so he saved it. He didn't quite know why, but he found it more… settling than the majority of her works.
"I suppose we are done here."
Stuart looked behind him to see the doctor standing in the middle of the doorway. He was in no mood to argue, so he simply agreed. "I suppose so."
"Remember what I said Stuart: next appointment."
"I got it. Thank you," Stuart replied harshly.
The doctor gave a pause, an exasperated sigh, and left. Stuart stared at the fire for a minute before the clock rang out. 10 o'clock; it was time for bed.
He couldn't sleep that day. Stuart may as well have been staring at the ceiling for the past nine hours. As the threat of being forced out of his home loomed over him, he began thinking of what might become of him. He thought about packing up his belongings and running away, leaving Acacia with Dr. Unsworth. At the age of fifty-three, Acacia was far older than most women. She'd had her life, but he hadn't. Acacia would rest, get her doses of heroine, surely better treatment… Stuart thought.
Maybe she actually would be better off there. Maybe Stuart was simply more concerned with himself and the orphanage. Even so, he would rather live on the streets than go to that war zone. He was far too old for any potential parents to consider him, what few there would be, and he wouldn't be the most well-respected there. In all likelihood, he would be one of the preferred victims of some gang of cretins, fighting for the sake of compensation.Perhaps he should have just left. He had enough money. Maybe… But where would he go? The circus?… Maybe he would have to wing it, but he'd have to leave town. It wouldn't be that hard, he'd have maybe a day or two to do it… Unsworth would find Acacia, and bring her to the home, so it wasn't like he'd be leaving her for dead. It was something that might have to happen.
Stuart looked at the clock; 6:00PM. He was an hour early, but it wasn't as if he was getting any sleep to begin with. Perhaps it was for the best; at least now, he might be able to spend more time with Acacia. Getting out of bed, Stuart reached for the tobacco and pamphlet of cigarette paper on his dresser.
Stuart always felt a certain satisfaction to rolling his own cigarettes, even if it was more time-consuming. Assuming he couldn't find a complementary stack anywhere, the general store sold booklets for one cent. Much cheaper than buying an entire box of cigarettes, considering that a large part of the property was dedicated to tobacco. Five a day was the usual, but he decided to make seven this time, due to the recent news.
It was around this time that Acacia would finish her drawings for a while, so he made his way to her room to check up on her. Stuart approached her door, and opened it just enough to peer inside.
"Grandmother? May I come in?"
She didn't respond, most likely distracted with her drawings. He came in regardless.
"Grandmother? I was wondering if you wanted me to pick up some dinner for us; I could pick up that tomato bisque you love so much…"
"… Fredrick? Is that you?"
Stuart had no idea who Fredrick was, or why she kept confusing him with him, but this wasn't the first time this had happened. Maybe it his brother or father?
"No Acacia, it's me… Stuart?"
"… Acacia, I wanted to see if you wanted to take a walk with me. Maybe we could get some of that tomato bisque you like so much?"
There was no response."Acacia, you need to eat…" There was no response.
"… Listen, I'm… not entirely certain that we can continue to live here anymore. We might have to… well, part ways…"
"… Where's my cat?"
She was always distracted like this, regardless of what was put in front of her. She never took anything in or reacted to anything meaningfully. It was as if she'd already died, but her mind was still spinning its wheels, waiting for the moment they give out. Stuart had never seen the cat before, or known its actual name. He had been able to confirm that she had owned a cat at one point from photographs and conversations with neighbors, but it must have died or ran away around the time Stuart was born.
"It's… not here."
"Oh… There's my bunny outside. I see her every day."
If only out of reflex, Stuart looked outside, but saw nothing.
"She's hiding right now… sometimes she climbs up the side of the tower, and looks through the windows. "
Behavior like this is expected from her in these stages, but this struck Stuart in particular. The tower is where Stuart lived. And rabbits don't climb. It was somewhat unnerving… but it was also nonsense. She was most likely imaginating events that she's just perceiving as real… but what if she was watching someone break in?
"Uh… did it ever get inside?"
"I… I don't remember."
Stuart was suspicious of this. It wasn't unlikely that she could have associated an actual rabbit she saw with a burglar.
"Excuse me, I have to check on something. I'll be back."
She didn't seem to care. Stuart ran to check every valuable possession he could think of; silverware, heirlooms, caches hidden inside of wardrobes and, floor boards. Everything seemed to be accounted for. Stuart thought for a second.
This is silly. If a burglar came in, they would've taken whatever they could carry. That aside, wouldn't they have come at night? I would have seen them… I suppose it's also not unlikely that she confused a squirrel or some other rodent with a rabbit. Why am I acting so paranoid?
Stuart took a long drag on his cigarette and made his way back to Acacia's room; this stress was going to kill him one day. He shouldn't be worrying about this. It wasn't as if it would matter if something was stolen; he was being evicted regardless.
Stuart entered her room again, to see her still staring out of her window; most likely watching for her rabbits."Acacia? I wanted to know if you would like to go out for a walk? It's a gorgeous night."
She looked up at him. "Are we going to see the garden?
"Yes, I think that could be arranged," Stuart replied, preparing to set up her wheelchair. Fresh air might do her well after being cooped up in that stuffy old bedroom. And after all, it had been quite a while since the two spent any more time than absolutely necessary.
Acacia had always been a frail woman. Stuart, lifting her onto the chair, could feel just how light she was; she couldn't have weighed more than a few ounces. He carried her past the slightly worn stairs, and pushed her chair out the door, and across the dirt path. The two didn't talk; they didn't need to. Stuart was just happy to be in someone's company, and the silence allowed them to fully appreciate the garden in front of them.
Most of the land had been converted to farmland, but Stuart had had this part of the land preserved. Acacia had used to take immense pride in her gardening; she had used to do it all herself, but now, with no one to oversee it, it had become overrun with overgrowth.Still, even in its current state, it did still have its charms; the vines growing freely over the masonry, the rusted fountains; long since been drained of water. It was the type of place that made Stuart want to explore in, as if he was playing in ancient ruins, long since forgotten… Though sadly, with no one to play with, he did less adventuring, and more reading while sitting under a nearby tree or pillar. He knew she most likely would not remember this, but what he did know was that in this very moment, she was happy. He also knew that this was most likely the last time he would be seeing her. He should be enjoying her company while he had it, but he just couldn't get his mind off of losing everything; the house, the garden, Acacia, his books. Before he knew of it, an hour had passed. He looked over to the old woman; asleep.
He chuckled briefly, almost like he had expected it, and grasped her chair. Remembering his shortage of proper literature, he realized that this might be the last time he would be able to hit the bookstore before he would have to move out himself. He made his way back to the house, aided Acacia in putting herself to bed, and prepared himself for the trip, fetching his old books, his tool bag, and sneakers.
After all, if he was going to make his escape from hell, he'd want more things to read.
Chapter 2The word around town was that a ghost haunted this little book shop. The story changed every time it was told, but the general consensus was that an older couple had built the store from the ground up before the town settled its roots. The two lived happily together until one night, they were visited by a demon, which supposedly tore their soul from their bodies, and trapped them inside the shop.
They said that when the clock stroke 3:33 in the morning, the demon made its rounds, checking on those poor souls who fell prey to its horrible clutches… or, the far more likely version, Stuart was swapping out his old books for ones he hadn't read yet around that time. The locals were quite superstitious about ghosts and demons and whatnot. You could hardly throw a stick without it hitting a building with some history of a curse put on it.
Truly the wicked had claimed this old town for their own.
Stuart placed his hand against the store's back door. He remembered his first few times coming here, and how he had to crawl through the basement window and fall into the pitch-black storage cellar.
He was fortunate that the lock to the back door was easy to bypass. Now, he simply slipped his pocket knife in between the backdoor's bolt and the face-plate; comparatively easier than crawling through the mud every time he wanted a change in literature. Ever since he discovered it, Stuart had visited this shop as often as he ran out of books to read; it was like a second home to him at this point.He must have read over half the books in the tiny little shop; it was such a shame to see that the books would go on without ever being read. Most of the authors put so much effort and thought into their work, and now this might be the last time he would visit. Despite its abandonment, the building appeared very well-kept. Each table free of dust, each bookshelf bearing no cobwebs, and yet, each room was absent of people. If there truly was a demon or spirit possessing this place, it was surely more interested in the general upkeep of the house than harvesting souls. Stuart asked those living near the shop if anyone stopped by every now and then, but they couldn't say anything particularly useful.
Regardless, Stuart treated the shop as if he was a guest in a library. He only picked up three books at a time, made sure to return the books he borrowed from where he originally picked them up, and cleaned any mess that he could have created. He simply felt it was the right thing to do.
Looking through the available works, he replaced his copy of Against Nature by Joris-Karl Huysmans, a piece he rather liked, with a copy of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, an American author that Stuart was beginning to hear regularly while overhearing various gossip around the town.
He was about to grab another one of his old books to replace when he noticed a bright-red envelope blatantly sticking out from the bookshelf. Stuart had been to this area of the shop multiple times; it definitely was not there before. That's when he noticed that it had his name on it.
He knew that he probably should have left it there, grabbed his books, and never returned, but his curiosity was piqued; who could have possibly left this here? And how did they know his name? He opened the letter. It wouldn't be something from someone who wanted to harm him, would it? After all, it would have been much easier to approach Stuart from behind and bag or knock him out, compared to warning him with a letter.
It was unnerving regardless.
Mr. Stuart Hayward, Would you please accompany me upstairs? We have some things to discuss regarding your inheritance and plans for the future.
Excuse my appearance. -A friend of Acacia
The more Stuart dug into this, the more curious he became. He was unaware of any plans Acacia had for him. Actually, he was unaware that Acacia had any 'friends' outside of her business partners. She never left the estate much, even before Stuart moved in.
He placed his books on the table, and as he approached the stairs, he began to hear a voice, faint at first, but as Stuart approached the second floor, it became more clear that this voice was singing. As he approached the source, Stuart began to recognize both what the song was, and the sublime quality of the singer's voice; the Old Maid In the Garret, sang under a quality that Stuart could only describe as angelic. Whoever this person was, she was definitely very talented.
Careful not to alert the singer to his presence, he followed the song down the hall, and towards the master bedroom. This proved to be very easy, since she was obviously already preoccupied. He put his weight up against the wall and slowly creaked the door open. Stuart looked inside to see a young woman; older than himself, but scarcely looking sixteen.The girl was wearing a bathrobe that seemed to be ten sizes too big for her, and a red bow on the left side of her head, with long black hair that reached down to her upper back. She was facing the window opposite of the entrance, and appeared distracted. On top of her singing, she was preparing what smelled like chamomile tea… at least until Stuart opened the door further.The creak emitting from the door appeared almost deafening; loud enough to wake the dead. As the noise reached her, two long, bone-like protrusions rose above her head, as if she were an alert rabbit.
"Mr. Hayward?" she said with a slight Irish accent, turning her head enough to glance at the door, and revealed that the lower half of her face was covered by a doctor's face mask.
"Oh, good, you received my note; I was worried I might have to run out after you for a bit. Please, sit, make yourself comfy," she continued, motioning towards a coffee table and set of chairs. "I was just preparing some tea. You like chamomile, yes?"
Stuart loved chamomile.
"Uh, it's fine," he replied, making his way to a seat, knowing full well that he should be having the urge to run by now. Perhaps it was the woman's soothing voice or polite demeanor, but Stuart had the overwhelming impression that she was not going to cause any harm.
After pouring a cup for each of them, she made her way to the table and set Stuart's glass out in front of him before sitting down at the chair adjourning his. As she made herself comfortable, Stuart could clearly see her red, inhuman eyes. Her right produced a white glow in the dimly lit room, but her left seemed almost clouded, and while it did seem to give off a slight red glow, it did not seem as prominent as her other.
"I-I'm sorry, who are you exactly?" Stuart sputtered.
"Oh, how rude of me; I didn't even put my name on that card, did I? My name is Clovis. You can think of me as a sort of… personal servant to Acacia. It's a pleasure to finally be speaking to you."
"Wait, you're her servant? How come I haven't seen you before?"
"She specified that she didn't want you to know of me until it was necessary, and you have inherited my services: my apologies, I realize how off-putting this might sound to you. It's not exactly how I would have liked to have been introduced either."
She took a sip of her tea, and continued. "Mmm. You have truly great taste. This was one of Acacia's blends, wasn't it?"
Stuart hadn't even picked up his cup yet. He was too taken aback to appreciate it.
He started to regain his composure "Oh, maybe; I haven't started on it yet. Clovis, was it? May I ask whatyou are? Aside from a servant?"
Clovis paused. "An angel."
"I haven't heard of many angels offering their 'services' to people, and Acacia doesn't strike me as particularly religious. But those… ears of yours, along with those eyes, lead me to believe you aren't particularly lying either. Forgive me if I'm jumping to conclusions, but I'm inclined to believe you are instead the opposite."
Clovis set her tea in her lap. "You are a smart boy, Mr. Hayward. I call myself an angel because 'a devil' has too many negative connotations to it. It always gives the impression that I mean to deceive or hurt you." She began to chuckle slightly. "And rightly so if you have ever taken a look at me. But I can assure you, I only have your best interest in mind."
"Which is why you wanted to offer me something in exchange for 'my soul' or something of that nature, is that correct?"
"Well, no," said the woman, her happy demeanor suddenly vanishing. "Unfortunately, for now, I've come to tell you that Acacia will—… she's—… I'm sorry, I saw her earlier today and… she doesn't look like she's fairing well."
"Her sickness is getting the best of her. She will survive the night, but by dawn, I'm not so sure.""… How do you know? How do you know she will die this morning?""It's… something I was born with. I knew her well; Twenty-three years of service, and there's not a single moment I regret," she continued. "She hasn't passed yet. We should see her."
Clovis offered her sleeved hand to the boy, but he could not bring himself to accept it. He stood up from his seat, and made his way to the door. "If you want to follow me home, you're welcome to."
And, of course, she did. As the two walked home, Clovis occasionally spoke out to Stuart if only to break the silence, but she received no response in turn. He skipped his chores, and did not go to bed at the right time, but instead stayed up to sit at the foot of Acacia's bed as Clovis stood silent next to them.
Stuart could not recall the exact moment when he saw Acacia die that morning; all he could recall was seeing Clovis seemingly whisper something into Acacia's ear before she carried him off to his bed, and tucked him carefully under his blanket.
Chapter 3He would have thought the events of last morning were only a dream if he didn't wake up to the breakfast set on the table. The sudden discovery of warm flapjacks and bacon was somewhat unsettling at first, but the realization of the cook's identity now made it even more so.
Choosing not to partake in his breakfast just yet, Stuart made his way downstairs to entertain his… guest. She was not hard to find, as she was still singing the Old Maid in the Garret, albeit in a slightly slower, sadder tone, with her back turned to him like when they first met.
"You seem to really enjoy that song."
"Gah, Lord!" She exclaimed, quickly turning around, clutching the space where her heart would be as she composed herself "… Forgive me, it's been a while since I stayed with someone. Good evening Mr. Hayward; how are you feeling?"
"As best as one could, given the circumstances."
"… Yes. Again, I want to offer my condolences. I lo-"
"Don't," Stuart said, raising his palm. "I want to ask you something; why are you still here?"
"Why are you still here? I just woke up to flapjacks in my room. Did you want something from me?"
Clovis sighed. "Well, I'm here partly because of a deal I made with Acacia, but mostly because I care about you, Mr. Hayward. I would like to extend my terms of employment to you, not only as a servant, but a friend. Perhaps as a tutor or counselor."
"What's the catch?" Stuart replied, nearly baffled. This creature, whose ilk is infamous in their lies and deceit, is offering her hand in friendship?
"Why would you be doing this for free? There has to be a reason as to why you're doing this; if this is going to loop back to handing over my soul to you, I'm afraid the answer is no."
"Ugh, no thank you. I failed to mention this before, but I'm not in the business of going through any kind of disgusting… Faustian bargains," said Clovis, making a sort of 'shoo'ing motion with the sleeves of her robe. "Have you ever seen a soul? Probably not, I don't blame you, but they're absolutely foul. They would serve no purpose to me anyway. No, they're better off sitting in your skull, fulfilling whatever purpose it set out for itself, thank you very much… Besides, yours is not for sale," she said, taking in another sip of her tea."So… So if you don't want my soul, what do you want?"
"Well, a roof over my head would be lovely, but I'm mainly after one thing."
"And what would that be?"
"You must have me to follow you, and only you for as long as you live."
"… Is that all?"
"That's all. Of course, if you wanted me to entertain guests, I'd be happy to oblige, but you can not transfer me to anyone outside of your own blood."
"… Again, is that all?"
"Yes. If it sounds easy, that's because it is. This is beneficial to me because so long as I am working for you, the effects of another, far worse agreement I am bound to are nullified. The only real challenge for you comes in the form of not getting either of us lynched. In most cases, I can take care of myself, but if anyone links me to you, you'll be accused of witchcraft or necromancy, regardless of whether or not you actually have been."
"And why would they do that? You make yourself sound monstrous, but I'm not seeing it. You may have your eyes and… ears? But regardless, I'd imagine those would be very simple things to hide."
"It's more than those. Do you see this terrible outfit I've adorned myself with? I've worn this for you, so I wouldn't make a horrifying first impression, but I do not plan on wearing it forever. I'm not ashamed of my appearance, but I do understand that it's something to fear."
Mildly surprised, Clovis responded "Oh, well, there's little I can do to prepare you for it. Are you sure?"
"Yes. If we are to work together, I should at least know what you truly look like."
She paused for a moment, and sighed "If you insist."
She detached her face mask and stood up to untie the waist belt to her robe, letting it fall to the ground, revealing a near-fleshless figure. While what skin Clovis had appeared beautifully preserved, the lower Stuart looked, the less of it she had. She had no flesh around her mouth, leaving only a skeletal grin. Her chest and neck were mostly preserved, with the exception of the cluster of large, dried holes, giving a clear view of her inner workings. Just below the rib cage, her body seemed to have forsaken flesh entirely, leaving only a clean white skeleton behind.
After Stuart was able to process that he was currently looking at a living, breathing skeleton, he began to recognize her other features. She had not hands, but two long, sharp bones, shaped in such a way reminiscent of a praying mantis. Her neck had a deep scar across it, as if it had been all but decapitated years ago, but then expertly stitched together.
She looked to Stuart, and said "I am sorry, Mr. Hayward, I'll just put this back on," donning her coat.
Stuart sat dumbfounded. If there was any doubt about her being the devil she had claimed to be, it had just been eradicated. And yet he wasn't scared. Startled, perhaps, but scared, no. It was more like he didn't know what to think. This creature, presenting herself in all her terrifying glory, seemed to come straight out the very urban legends that the town so eagerly spread. Then a thought came to him.
"Are those stories true?""Stories?" Clovis tilted her head "What do you mean? Oh. I assume you are referring to whatever the residents were saying about the original tenants of the building I previously lived in, yes?""Yes, in fact I am."
"Well, if those stories involve me killing them, no. A couple used to live there long before you were conceived. I knew they traveled a lot. Unfortunately though, the husband died of a sort of heart disease while the widow left behind had long since moved away… Poor dear. she was childless too. She probably couldn't stand to even look at the place, let alone go through the processes of selling it. Ever since, I've been living there, keeping it clean, hiding from public view. I knew how much you love books; it was only a matter of time before it at least caught your eye. I admit, I had to push the odds in my favor to get you in the door regularly. At least until…"
"… Acacia and I were separated."
"… Yes… Acacia asked me to help make your settling into the orphanage a more bearable one."
"That I will not do." Stuart snapped. "I'm not going there. Inattentive caretakers and budding thugs do not make-"
"And that's why I'm coming with you." Clovis interrupted. "I'm here so I can teach you how to change that. You do realize what I'm capable of, yes? What you are capable of? Your entire experience there will be radically different than what you think it'll be. Can you think of one alternative that doesn't involve you becoming a vagabond?"
Stuart felt unable to give a proper response.
"You need a roof over your head, and you need to inherit what Acacia left for you. The orphanage is the only reasonable option that grants both. You were never intended to live in the estate forever."
"… And Acacia?"
"I've… had her arranged to be picked up in the morning," she said, looking down. "I've left a letter for Dr. Unsworth. He'll come by as soon as he can."
"… Fine. I'll go."
"That's… That's good to hear. I know you've tried preventing this moment for so long, but for all it's worth, I know that you have made the right choice." She looked down at the floor. "Allow me to change the subject; did you enjoy your breakfast?"
"Oh. No, I didn't eat it yet."
"You should hurry. It might get cold before you even have the chance to enjoy them."
"You're very welcome," said Clovis, now sounding more relieved. "You just enjoy your breakfast and come visit me when you're done. I'll help you get everything settled. We only have a few days after all."
As soon as Stuart reached for the knob to leave, he turned to ask "… Do you think I could I see her?"
"Of course sweetie; you can do anything you want to, I'll just get started without you then."
He couldn't manage anything beyond an "Alright. Thank you." to end the conversation.
Chapter 4The large man felt an array of emotions: annoyance for the presence in front of him, sadness for the loss of one of his beloved patients, and, probably the most prevalent, concern of the child that shouldn't be.
"Why did I even agree to this?" he groaned.
"You did it because it's the right thing to do."
Clovis was no longer in her shoddy bath robe, but into a sleeveless, pink day dress, heavily contrasting her originally grim look. Rather than disguise her appearance, her outfit seemed to gild it. She made no attempt to disguise her skeletal form, leaving her boney grin uncovered by a mask, and her ribcage obscured by a corset or undershirt. It would have been a shameful outfit to wear in public if there were any flesh to show, but on her, it was beautiful, if a bit on the macabre side.
She continued. "We were lucky to get him in time in the first place, be happy that this is the end of it from your end."
He shrugged. "Yes, yes, but this was a very unpleasant experience, especially his… conception, if you can even call it that."
"She wanted a child more than anyone, and I needed one of the protectors. I regret what became of Acacia, but she was happy with her choice."
"Well I'm not. How do I know I didn't help you raise a monster?"
"How can I be sure?"
"Well, black cats were actually meant to give good luck, and cats in general are guardians against the weird. They were what were holding back the plague, for example. "
"… Is that it? They're also the friends of witches.""And why do you think that is? There is a difference between legend and rumor you know. Look to the child himself."
"He may be polite, but that doesn't change anything. You're polite too, and you've probably done numerous things." He shifted in his seat uncomfortably.
"Against my will, eons ago, and even then, it's debatable whether or not those things were truly evil or not. Look, aside from my word, that's all I can give. I don't know how the Mother and Father will act, but if push comes to shove, at least someone will have a chance to stop them. They may just want their voices to be heard, which I can support, but I can not promise a particular outcome. This is simply necessary to fend against the worst. You have done good Unsworth; act the part. The only thing left to do on your end is have your brother deliver her will to the proper channel, as it should be done anyway. You don't have to worry, as I doubt even your grandkids will live to see the end. You'll never have to hear from me again."
The doctor sighed. "Then I suppose I will just have to pray for the best."
"If it helps you sleep at night I suppose. This will be the last time I see you privately, so let me offer you a very sincere thank you. We may not have agreed on everything, but this would have been a very difficult process without you."
"I'd be lying if I said it was my pleasure, but you are welcome."
"It wasn't too great for me either. I didn't like opening her womb to get a proper vessel in, and I hated what a toll it had on her, but your needlework and care were greatly appreciated."
"It helped that she couldn't die from your wounds. I suppose it was worse for you than I; I know how much you liked her."
Clovis paused, her gaze drifting off to the side"I did. I more than liked her even… Though, I think I'm over grieving. The shell may have passed recently, but the woman truly died when we began… I have to check on Stuart, he's still in her room. Would you like to accompany me?"
"I'll meet you there. I need a minute.""Of course, I understand," she finished, reaching for her parasol and making her way towards the door. "Enjoy your retirement doctor, that tree house isn't going to build itself after all."Stepping out of the house, she checked her watch, knowing how late it was already. 6 o' clock. Sunrise was coming. The path to Dr. Unsworth's abode to the estate was a brief one, perhaps three kilometers or so. While many were up at this time, virtually no one walked down this path but Dr. Unsworth and her. She planned it that way, 'tipping the odds' so that no one wanted to even look at it, at least at night.
It was something she had done everywhere around the town, strategically turning streets into forgotten paths or buildings into infamous 'haunted houses'. The town made up their own context about the places she wanted quiet, pinning it on demons or crazed murderers that probably don't exist. Let them; anything to let her walk undisturbed by a drunk or hysteric onlooker.
She would have had the townspeople avoid the areas entirely, but the routes she needed to walk were so widespread, it would have raised suspicion if everyone were suddenly afraid to walk down the street in broad daylight. She only needed them to work at night, since Stuart was awake at that time, so now it only appears that everyone is simply very conscious of curfew. After all, who isn't already disturbed by the prospect of walking down a shady road at night?
It was this reason why she was surprised to see a large figure in the distance.
Her first instinct was to retreat to the shrubbery, but she failed to move anywhere but backwards. It seemed to have already noticed her, beginning to dash toward her. It was not a person, but a large, black, wolfish figure.
"You're… You aren't really here."
As it barreled towards her, she realized who this figure was meant to be. It lunged towards her, bursting into a cloud of grey flame, disappearing as soon as it arrived. Still tense from what she had seen, she scanned her surroundings. She had put together that it was simply a figment long before it lunged towards her.
It was never going to hurt her, it couldn't, but that was never what she truly feared about it. Clovis readjusted herself and looked down to see a message scrawled into the dirt, presumably left behind by the presence. "I suppose it had to happen sooner or later once they came to," she thought to herself. "It appears that we are going to have to jump right in."
Chapter 5"This is silly."
"No it's not, trust me. These are the most important components to any kind of special action you need to perform. You're fortunate that you don't actually need to gather them like so many others. You could go mad from some of the components alone."
The two sat at a table, a worksheet Clovis had drawn out for the occasion depicting a large chart of 'components' sprawled out in front of Stuart. It had been several days since Acacia's funeral, and Stuart had become used to Clovis' presence. Dr. Unsworth had said he would look after Stuart until a representative had been arranged to deliver him to the 'Haven Harbor' orphanage, which was located somewhere just off the river Mersey. He was expected to come by in the morning.
She continued. "You're pretty much done anyway, why not be safe and cover your bases?"
"Fine, but when you told me that I was basically going to be casting spells, I was not expecting so much busy work."
This isn't good. He should be getting excited over practicing, not tired of it, Clovis thought to herself. Maybe he'll be better behaved if he tries it for himself to see what he is capable of? After all, he's already memorized the most important parts…
She started "Hmm… You may have a point there. How about we put this away for now, and put you up to the test?"
Stuart's eyes lit up instantly. "Wait, we're getting to the fun parts?"
If she had lips, Clovis would have smiled; that was it. "Yes, but for my own sake of mind, let me make sure you know the common components. Could you please recite them?"
He practically blurted out the answers. "Mercury, sulfur, gold, silver, iron, copper, salt, organics, and tin."
"And what are organics?"
"Mostly sugar, wood, blood, bone, and skin, but it's really anything from plant matter to meat. If it is or was alive, it counts. It is different from the other components in that it isn't so much a single component, but a category. Each component's properties in this category are reliant on the source, and are commonly used to alter living things over generations, conduits, and summoning… Things. It varies. It's most effective in botany and animal breeding. In my case, I'm mostly going to be using it so I can use my hands as an outlet."
"And what are you not going to do with this component?"
He rolled his eyes, and placed his hands in his pockets. "Summon any otherworldly beings, friendly or not, without your permission."
"Good." Clovis gave a sigh of relief. "I'm proud of you Stuart; really, I am. You absorbed this information rather well. One thing though: while it can be very convenient to use your hands to carry out a action, I would not rely on it entirely. The outcome can be crude, and sometimes you'll need something with a greater range or more force, like an instrument or maybe a slingshot or wooden sword. You should keep it simple for now."
Stuart gave her a blank stare.
"Okay, I'm sorry, I'm done rambling. I just wanted to make sure you're approaching this safely. Let's go out to the garden and see how you fare in pract-"
And with that, Stuart grabbed Clovis's arm and led her out back, who was repeatedly telling Stuart to slow down all the while. The two made their way to a clearing and sat on the lush, green grass.
"So, let's begin with something called 'marking'. To put it into perspective, marking is to the arcane as a quill is to writing. May I see your hands?"
As he presented his hands to her, she turned them over to show his palms. For a brief moment, they felt like pins and needles before turning to a soothing warm.
"Do you know why no one around nowadays is going around throwing spells?"
"It's because no one truly knows how, not even me. Learning how to perform an arcane act is like learning a habit. The best way I can describe it is that each person has their own, wildly different approach to it, and whenever someone tries to teach it to someone else, the teacher's methods almost never agree with the student's. It can get pretty confusing. There are some beings who are just born knowing, or things that are easy to teach with a little push. This is because they were meant to. But then there're people who need to actively learn, because they don't really need to to survive. What I've just done for you is give you the arcane equivalent of training wheels… You aren't keeping it by the way, this is just here for the next half-hour."
Clovis looked over to the side. "Actually, speaking of, I have a present for you. Look behind the tree!" she said playfully, pointing towards the large willow tree a short distance away. "Well go on!" she said encouragingly.
Curious, Stuart stood up to retrieve it. He peered around the tree, and found a tall, thin gift box, roughly the size of his arm propped up against it.
"Don't open it from there! I want to see you open it!" Clovis said from afar. He grabbed the box and hurried over, genuinely happy for once in a long while.She continued as he began to open the box: "Remember when I said that using a sort of… Phylactery? Well… I got one for you!" As the lid slowly slid off and released its vacuum, he looked inside to see an ornate wood sword lying on top of a leather sheath. There was a satisfying weight to the toy as he picked it up by the hilt and turned it over, inspecting it.
"I picked it out for you, I really hope you like it! I was thinking I could teach you how to mark it, then how to use it, and then when we're done, I'll render it inert. That way, you can get a feel for it, and just come to me and ask whenever you want to practice."
"I- I'm at a loss for words," he said, clearly overwhelmed.
"Think nothing of it, sweetie," she said cheerfully.
"No, this i- this is the first toy anyone's ever given me. It's the only…" There was a brief pause, then suddenly, Clovis felt a tight squeeze around her midsection. She didn't even process that Stuart was hugging her until she looked down towards him.
It was a long time before either of them let go.
"Ahem… Thank you. I love it; I absolutely love it," Stuart said as he composed himself.
"I- I'm glad."
"You, um… wanted to teach me how to mark it?"
"Oh, right. Um. All you have to do is apply pressure to the spot your want to mark, then focus on the symbol you want to place on that spot. That mark I put on your hands should take care of the rest."
"Using a mark to place a mark?"
"That's the gist of it, though you won't be using that forever. Now, I already placed a spell on this so you can practice with it, so, if we place a trigger on it…"
"It'll go off?"
"When you press it to, yes. So, be careful where you point it. Actually, let me stand behind you so I can show you how to aim," she said, positioning herself.
"Alright. Like this?"
"Yes. Do you need help with setting up the trigger?"
"No, I think I got it… there. What now?"
"Hold it with both hands, and keep the blade pointed towards the sky. When you're ready, grip the handle tightly, and focus on where you want to shoot. When you're ready, s-"Then, a loud boom, followed by streams of multicolored lights erupted from the sword like ribbons, filling the night sky with an array of colors from blue to green to purple."It's called the 'aurora borealis'," she began. "Or at least my recreation of it. I figured this would be a huge improvement over some fireworks or whatnot."
"I've only read about this… It's more amazing in person."
"Yes… I thought that too when I first saw it. I thought that this would be a nice experience to share… You know what sweetie? I think we can end the lesson for tonight. This is really is a huge accomplishment."
"Really? It was rather easy."
"Precisely. It takes people years to even learn how to do that. You'll fly through these lessons in no time at this rate. We just need to teach you how to use it responsibly."
"Well, on that note, the Haven Harbor representative should be coming soon now. We should see about getting your bags ready… Don't worry, I'll do it for you. They're already packed so it shouldn't take long."
"Alright. Thank you mother."
"Think nothing of it," she said cheerfully. "It'll be done as soon as possible. Let's get you inside then."
As the two prepared to head back inside, unmarking everything involved, bringing down the replication of the northern lights, and not forgetting the wooden sword, Stuart had realized what he had said. He had hoped that he had perhaps misheard himself, or that, if he did call her what he thought he had, she hadn't heard it.
Clovis would have been wondering if Stuart was aware of it as well, but the blush on his embarrassed expression made that answer very clear.
Chapter 6He had been told that the representative would be there an hour ago from now. With most of his belongings packed, Stuart had very few things to do now but lie on the sofa and read. However, he found that reading for pleasure was far more enjoyable than reading for the sake of killing time. Dr. Unsworth had arrived hours ago to oversee Stuart's transfer while Clovis occasionally stuck her head out from upstairs to see what was going on and question why the representative was so late.
Stuart had begun to wonder if he had been forgotten about just before the man actually appeared on his doorstep. The guest pounded on the door. Hard. Worried that the man would break down the door if left to himself for long enough, Dr. Unsworth hurriedly opened the door for him.
The tall man loomed over Unsworth, towering over the already large doctor. "Is this where I might find the Hayward boy?" he asked the doctor in a steep, rough voice.
The man looked over Unsworth's head to find the child getting up to address the man, but it wasn't until the man motioned the doctor out of the way of the door before he could get a good look at him. His attire seemed more appropriate of a funeral; a black and dark grey pinstripe three piece suit, black tie, and a black hat, all of which emphasized his pale face and clammy, wrinkled hands.
As the man stepped toward he began to introduce himself. "Am I to presume that you are Stuart Hayward?"
"Oh, yes sir."
"Then my name is Father Harold Morgan. You are to accompany me to Haven Harbor, and remain silent throughout the trip unless spoken to. Is that clear?"This person shows up an hour late, and has the gall to barge in to give me orders? I can already tell this'll be fun."Yes sir." There was no sense making a scene, it'll be better to have him think better of him than worse, especially if the two will be living together. He'd probably be sleeping most of the trip anyways.
"It's bad enough that I had to come to fetch you from Halton; it's even worse that I had to ride one of those awful iron horses to get here; unnatural things… I see you have your bags packed. Is that all you're bringing?"
He didn't have many belongings to begin with; just a few sets of clothes, his one toy, and books, mostly books. He managed to fit everything he owned in two bags.
"Well, whatever you're bringing, you're carrying. Keep that in mind."
"Uh, Father Morgan? May I pull Stuart aside for a minute?" Dr. Unsworth interjected. "We have to discuss some things."
The Preacher glared at him. "Fine. Get on with it then."
Unsworth grabbed Stuart and led him into the kitchen.
Stuart began. "Well, I suppose this is goodbye then."
"I suppose so. Stuart, if you have any problems that Clovis or yourself can't handle, I want you to talk to my brother. He doesn't live very far from you, and Clovis knows where he lives, so he can help you with anything you might need. He'll get into contact with me, and the four of us will fix whatever it is. Alright?"
"I will, don't worry. He's not exactly the most well-mannered, is he?"
"The father? No, he's not. Do try to go easy on him though: he may just be having a bad day."
"I was planning on it, even though I find him rather… disgusting. No sense in making enemies so early on, right?"
The doctor began to smile. "Heh, no there isn't, and I'm glad you see it that way. Do remember though, you shouldn't let him walk all over you either, or let anyone else for that matter. Do what you think is right, and it'll all work out, alright?"
"Thank you doctor, I will. I'm sorry that our last meeting went the way it did, and I appreciate your help through all of this; I really do. You didn't even have to get this involved."
"Oh hush now. You've been a friend for as long as I care to remember… Do visit when you can though, it'll be very quiet without you around."
Stuart brightened up slightly. "I will if I can, I promise."
"Alright, now go on; Morgan's probably been kicking up a fit since we left."
The doctor patted the boy's head and the two walked to meet the preacher. "I'm ready to go Mr. Morgan," Stuart said hesitantly, grabbing his bags.
"That's Father Morgan. Manners boy, manners. You would do well to remember them, else I beat them into you." He snapped, glaring at Stuart. "… Well come on then, let's get a move on."
Stuart was hardly able to look back to Unsworth waving goodbye as the preacher pushed the poor child out the door. The preacher practically shoved Stuart into his coach, and rode off, leaving Stuart's old life, his home, far behind. During the journey, Stuart could not help but think to himself that hopefully, Clovis will meet with him again at Haven soon.
At least he would have one friend in all of this.
The ride to the station was brief, but uncomfortable. Stuart sat next to the preacher as they rode in the backseat. Father Morgan folded his arms into his lap as Stuart tried to manage his bags within the confined space. Throughout the trip, he could not help but think that if the preacher took a bag, or gave up a quarter meter his extra space, he'd be able to sit as comfortably as Morgan. The phrase "holier than thou" came to Stuart's mind throughout the whole ordeal.Thankfully, the coach was only a means of getting to the Train Station. Stuart hopped off the coach and to the station, but the train wasn't quite there yet. He was just about to start searching for a bench when a loud wail echoed through the air, making him jump.
The sound was high-pitched, but had a very deep presence, as if someone had blown a whistle the size of a person. Stuart flinched to search for the source of the noise to see a giant steel beast speed around the bend, approaching closer to the station, car after car following. It was at this moment that Stuart realized he had never even seen a train before, only read brief references to them.
He had always heard of them referred to as 'iron horses' or similar, so he had assumed they were a newer type of carriage, maybe traveling on iron rails, or equipped with a loud whistle. This changed things. While it may have served a similar purpose, it didn't look at all like a horse. It reminded him more of an iron snake with the way it twists around corners, keeping to its rails. With the cranks, eccentrics, and side rods circulating around its many wheels in a hypnotic dance, perhaps an 'iron centipede' would have been a better descriptive. Regardless, Stuart was in awe as he entered the spacious cabin.
Despite his circumstances, he found himself enjoying the ride. Stuart loved watching the scenery rush past him, the towns they passed, the preacher's misery; even listening to the train's whistle became a thrill to him.
It was a very literal example of the journey being superior to the destination.
Chapter 7Stuart wasn't expecting his new home to be so… extravagant. Haven Harbor was, to put it simply, large; larger than was needed to contain the few kids it had advertised. The area seemed to take up at least two and a half hectares, and on top of that, it seemed to bustle with people carrying a variety of bags, as if they were coming home from a day of shopping; for a brief moment, Stuart wondered if he had been led to the right building.
"This is Haven Harbor," the preacher began as the two walked inside. "It is not just an orphanage. On top of giving your sorry hide a roof to sleep under, it's also a holy ground, power supply, and general market. You will be assigned a job to follow tomorrow. For today, find yourself a bed in the lower levels, and unpack. You'll need the rest. If you need me, and you better not unless you're dying, I'll be in the chapel."
The preacher left without another word. Stuart sighed: the prospect of "lower levels" did not bode well to him. Haven laid very close to the water; any kind of basement would surely have to contend with being underneath the water table. He tried not to think about the copious amounts of mold and mildew that would surely have accumulated as he walked down his crowded new home.
The building was not so much a single building, but an entire indoor plaza. The four floors of shops and markets were organized in a sort of "T" layout. The longest hall, facing north, was more of an atrium, since the upper floors ended into a balcony overlooking a dining hall. The area seemed dedicated to food-based shops. Stuart noticed most of the shops were specialty shops, selling only a certain type of product. There was a bakery that only sold pastries, a butcher that only sold fish, the list went on.
Aside from the north hall, none of the other areas seemed to have any type of theme. Like the north hall, the stores seemed to specialize in a particular product. There was a toy-store for boys, one for girls, a child and adult bookstore, a tailor for women and one for men, anything anyone could ever need, there was a shop that specialized in it.
Across the complex were multiple advertisements for Father Morgan's Sunday service, all of which led towards the large ornate doors near where the three halls met. The advertisements painted the preacher in a light that felt much undeserved, with the preacher dressed in robes placing his hand on a kneeling man. The man seemed to be crying tears of joy as he smiled in front of a sunset.
The more Stuart walked around down the halls, the wearier he became. That's when he realized that it has probably been four or five hours past his usual bed-time. Following the halls, he stumbled upon a boy entering a door that had the text "PRIVATE AREA: NO ENTRY" displayed on an attached metal sign. To Stuart, this seemed like a decent enough place to search for the lower levels.
Opening the door behind the child before him, he saw a flight of stairs leading down to a large metal door, one that seemed more becoming of a pressurized vault than a living area, and one that the child seemed to be struggling to open.
"Do you need any help?" Stuart spoke.The child jumped, turning around with an expression on his face resembling that of a caught thief, then relaxing slightly upon seeing Stuart. The child seemed younger than Stuart, being slightly shorter than him. He wore a light, tan jacket and carried an overstuffed messenger's bag, but the most recognizable feature was the eye-patch covering his left eye.
"Oh, you're the new kid, right? I'm fine, don't worry," he said hurriedly, returning to the door. "I just needed to grab something from my locker."
Before Stuart could finish descending the steps, the child managed to open the door himself.
"I'm sorry, I'm in a bit of rush. Name's Joey. You?"
"Oh, mine's Stuart."
"Stuart? Nice to meet ya. Maybe we'll see each other again after closing time? I have to run, bye," Joey said in a rather rushed tone before running off. Gone. It's probably for the best: I'm in no condition to socialize anyhow.
He took Joey's lead through the doors, and was greeted to the pitch blackness that seemed to swallow the corridor ahead of him. Joey seemed so far away.
"Just keep walking forward!" Stuart heard Joey shout ahead. "It goes in a straight line for a while! Put your arms out in front of you to feel for a wall, n' when ya find it, turn right! You can figure it out from there!"
Stuart was used to the dark and could see fairly well in it, but it was still pretty damn dark; he could hardly see half a meter in front of him. He was about to proceed when he heard Joey again.
"Oh, n' mind the wolf! If ya hear 'em, just face the wall so he can't see your face, you'll be fine!"
"Close the doors behind ya too! The unmarked doors and the one behind ya's fine, but he'll still be able to get in our rooms if ya let him!"
"Yeah, trust me, it really isn't as big a deal as it sounds! You'll have plenty of warning, and he's pretty harmless. No one's died from 'em yet, so just stay outta his way, don't let him see yer face for long, n' you'll be fine!"
"S-Shouldn't we call for a bobby or-"
"No! Trust me mate, that's a bad idea! First thing I did, and it did NOT turn out well for ANYONE! … You scared? I'll come over if ya want!"
"I-I'm fine! … Anything else I should know?!" God damn it, what in the blazes is this?
"No, that'd be it! Try not to stub your toe! Happens a lot!"
"Superb," Stuart said to himself, stepping into the darkness and slinging his baggage over his shoulder.
As Stuart progressed, he came to the realization that this hallway was not composed of bricks or mortar, but metal. The floors clang and squeaked under his step, and the walls he touched felt laden with pipe work. He briefly wondered what they were transporting, until he felt a slight pat in his back pocket.
"Open that when you're ready to find me," a voice whispered to him.
Stuart spun around instinctively, seeing nothing. He stared into the abyss for a moment, but then remembered that he was not supposed to show his face to the beast. It took him a while to realize it, but Stuart was sure that voice was only Clovis. She did have a penchant for unintentionally scaring the daylights out of people after all, and it wasn't as if he wasn't already unnerved.
Taking a breath, he continued his walk, the hallway somehow continuing to become even darker.
What possible reason does this hallway have to be so long? Stuart thought, finally reaching its end.
"Uh, Joey?!" Stuart shouted. "Am I supposed to make a left or right here?!"
There was no response. The start of this venture seemed like an hour ago, but really, it'd been closer to five minutes. He'd been too worried about other, possibly homicidal things to remember the direction reliably. It was right, right? He felt for the left, just checking to see if that was an option to begin with; it was. It's probably right.
He stumbled off to the right, not entirely sure of what he was meant to do after the turn. A short distance later, he came across a bend in the path. Just on the corner was a small light, bright by no means, but enough to illuminate the sign below it.
At last! Stuart thought, feeling for the door. He could tell that it was like the one at the entrance just from touching it, but before he could grab the handle, it swung open, practically knocking Stuart to the ground as a bright light revealed itself from inside the room.
"Oh, sorry about that," Stuart heard from a voice from inside. "Ya need any help there?"
It's just Joey. "No, no, I'm fine, thanks. Just gave me a bit of a jump."
"You're kinda a scaredy cat, aren't ya?"
"Haha," Stuart said sarcastically."Hey, look, I'll show ya to your bunk," Joey motioned to a set of spare cots. "Take your pick." They weren't much to look at; even the occupied cots didn't even seem to have covers or pillows to them. Stuart began. "Is it fine if I take this one?"
"Sure, 'though that's just across from Espen's bunk," Joey said, pointing at a cot with a stuffed bear propped up against its frame.
"You'll meet 'em soon."
"Alright," Stuart replied cautiously. "I could just toss my bags under the cot, right?"
"Whatever you want, Scaredy Cat. I gotsta go. I'll meet up with you soon."
"'Scaredy Cat' isn't going to be my nickname, is it?"
Joey left without another word, shutting the door behind him.
With a sigh, Stuart hopped into the bottom bunk, trying to get comfortable. Finally getting into an acceptable position, he began to relax. Before he drifted to sleep, he took note of the bear on Espen's cot, and how it seemed to look in his direction.
Chapter 8Stuart awoke to a set of black, glassy eyes and a brown, button-nosed snout a breath away from his face.
"You read a lot, don't you?" A rough, but childish voice questioned.
Stuart's eyes opened wide as he backed himself to the other side of the cot. He looked back to see a set of rosed hands presenting the plush toy to him. Looking up further, Stuart saw a lithe, somewhat twitchy, figure wearing a butcher's smock and a slightly bedraggled head of hair. "Wow, Joey's kinda right: you are a scardey cat, aren't you?"
Stuart's face turned pink. "Can I help you?"
The person's body language seemed to convey that they were terrified, now shielding their face with the stuffed bear and looking away, as if expecting Stuart to suddenly leap for his bed to hit them. However, that emotion did not seem apparent in their voice, which seemed disconnectedly calm.
"This is Espen," they said, shaking the bear in front of themself. "We noticed that you were new, so we thought we'd come over to welcome you. Did you get your job yet?"
"… I'm sorry, who's Espen?"
"This is," Espen manipulated the bear's arm to point to themself. "… Espen can't speak for themself, so it's my job to keep them out of trouble!" Espen seemed terribly embarrassed at the happily bouncing teddy bear.
This is… Is this some kind of mental illness? Stuart thought. He was in no position to give any form of medical diagnosis, so he shifted the focus of the conversation to the bear, unsure how to proceed. Playing into their delusions wouldn't help them, but opposing them directly would do little but upset them. This child needs professional aid, not labor.
"Well that's good of you. You were talking about a job?"
"Oh yes!" Espen said, looking slightly more relaxed now that the conversation shifted off of them. "What job did you get? Hopefully you're not working with Espen."
"I haven't gotten one yet… Why shouldn't I be working with Espen?"
"Espen's doing something called… 'Keyer'?" Espen said, putting the bear's paw to its mouth and tilting its head sideways, as if questioning what it said. "Whatever it is, they really don't like sharing it. They won't even let me come with them… They started getting kinda twitchy after a while, like they have the shakes… Well you should talk to Joey! You'll probably have something by now."
"Oh, well, thanks." Is anyone here aware of how unsettling this situation is?
"Take care! And don't worry, about your job: most everyone has been assigned a fairly normal task."
"Alright, I hope so," he said, leaving the conversation. Joey wasn't hard to find: he sat hunched over a large poster, clearly in its earlier stages. Stuart recognized the art style.
"So you're the one who made those advertisements all over the place."
Joey briefly looked over his shoulder in order to make eye contact. "Oh, evenin'… or mornin'… You just wake up?"
"Yes, I'm used to a different sleep schedule."
"Oh… Actually, that's perfect. We needed more people working night shifts anyway. You ready for your assignment?"
"Well, wait. I wanted to talk to you about Espen. You sounded like you knew a lot about them."
"Aye… I saw them come in, before Morgan needed what I hope is only a butcher. They are fine people, at least the bear is, but I worry for the one hiding behind the bear… I tried to tell people about it once, and no one believed a dirty mutt like myself over their priest… I paid for that one, but that doesn't mean you should."Joey paused, giving a pained expression. "Look, Morgan has the professionals do the complicated things, like running the shops and whatnot. Most of us just have apprenticeships to them, it's simple work. Many of us don't even see Morgan outside of Sunday unless we're a problem, or we're working for him. Don't be a problem, stay out of the way, do your job, and you'll be fine," said Joey, adjusting the band to his eyepatch. "… Speaking of which…"Joey stood up and reached for a thick binder labeled "assign".
"You said you want a night job?" Joey began.
"Well, that would be preferred."
"Well that's great: The First Hound needs a shoe shiner."
"The First Hound?"
"It's a pub. Popular one too."
"A pub? I thought this was holy ground."
"Aye, that's why it's so popular. Gets a mix of decent acts too. All things considered, you're pretty lucky. You get music to work to."
"Well, I'm hardly in a position to complain."
"Good. Well then, you should start tonight if everything goes right."
"Alright then," Stuart was about to turn around but remembered something. "What was that about the wolf yesterday?"
"Don't ask, because I don't know. I think I heard Father Morgan call it Fred, so he probably put it there…" Stuart gave a confused look, wondering why Joey seemed so accepting of it all. "… I've lived here for two years, I'm used to this."
"Right then," Stuart ended. "Suppose I should put my things away; I didn't get around to that yesterday."
"Good man. Hopefully I'll see you once this is finished," he said, continuing his poster work.
On the way to his bunk, Stuart remembered the object slipped into his pocket back in the tunnels. He pulled out a folded note, and read its contents.
Stuart, I'm sure you're questioning this place just as much as I. Get some rest and as soon as you can, please accompany me in the Reactor Room. Once you exit the Living Quarters, make a left. It's immediently after a bend in the path, and lit identically to the Living quarters.
Don't attract attention. Bring your sword. -Clovis
His baggage would have to wait; he kept Clovis waiting for long enough. Putting in the bare minimum of work into unpacking, Stuart merely secured his belongings after snatching up his wooden toy and making his way to the door.
As he opened it, he was suddenly reminded of the pitch blackness that stood on the other side. He briefly considered backing down from the endeavor, but he knew he couldn't stay in the living quarters forever. He needed to come out sometime. Might as well be now, rather than later.
Turning left into the dark halls, Stuart opened his eyes widely in the hopes that perhaps his eyes would adjust to the darkness faster. They didn't. If anything, it probably hindered his vision.
After a minute or two of fumbling down the corridor, Stuart took a step too far, and clashed his pinky toe against the cold metal walls. The pain was sharp but quick, at least at first. Shortly after the initial blow, the pain shot up his leg and wracked up to his spine as he screamed out in pain, his yell echoing throughout the complex before falling again into a brief silence.
Still wincing, he leaned against the side of the tunnel for support. He reflexively lifted his foot so he could examine it before remembering his current lack of sight. As Stuart defeatedly began to lower his foot, he heard the sound of rusted metal scraping together shortly before being stunned with a light comparatively brighter than the abyss he just trudged through.
"Stuart?!" a voice called out from around the corner. "Where… Stuart!"
Stuart let out a sigh of relief after realizing that the concerned voice was only Clovis. She continued "Are you alright!? What happened? Are you hurt?"
"Clovis? Days… Don't worry, I'm fine. I just ran my foot into the wall.""It sounded like it was painful. Come in, let's take a look at it," she said, motioning towards the room she came from.
Walking into the room, the first thing to catch Stuart's eye was the metal behemoth in the center of the room. He knew that it was mechanical in nature, but nothing past that. It seemed to purr in tandem with a smaller, less wired version. They both seemed to be from the same manufacturer, having small labels displaying "110% tough as nails!: Anderson's Select!"
"You gave me a scare, you know," she said, pulling up a couple of stools. "Let's take a look huh? Take a seat, put your foot on my lap."
Stuart complied, though the pain from the event has already subsided.
"Let's see… Aw, you should be fine, see? Just a little red."
"I figured… It still hurt though."
"I believe you; I could hear your scream through the vault door."
"There's no need to exaggerate. These walls are thick, there's no way you could've heard me through that."
"… Yes. Sorry sweetie. So, moving on," Clovis said, releasing Stuart's foot. "We should talk about this place. Tell me, what have you seen so far?"
"I'm… Not sure. This place looks more like a sweatshop than a home, but its actual purpose and architecture baffles me. Also, from what you've taught me before I left, I'm sensing some themes here."
"I-I was too. Actually, I was just about to tell you about this generator. What did you find?"
"There's a kid here, Espen. They seem to work in a butchery, but they have access to large mercury reserves. Looks to me that they've been dabbling in some summoning."
"Summoning?… I'd disagree under any other circumstance, but I'm not seeing many other things that it could be. I'll have to look into that. Espen?"
"Yes. Kind of thin, dark hair, speaks through a toy bear they usually carry around, you can't miss them. So, you said something about this thing?" Said Stuart nodding towards the clunky scrap heap next to him.
"Ah yes, I've noticed some things about this generator. It's working far past what it should be capable of. The state of disrepair, it managing to work continuously with little supervision, the output; I've seen newer models of this break down constantly, but this? I haven't seen this break down once; only when it needed fuel. Why is this an exception? And there are nine others like it too."
"Morgan told me at some point that Haven sells excess power to someone. Ten generators sounds a bit much for just Haven."
"Yes. Quite honestly, this generator seems more than enough to power this place. Maybe the other nine are dedicated to powering the surrounding towns?"
"It would give this place more of an income. From what I've seen of Morgan, it would make sense of him."
"Yes, I overheard your conversation back at the estate when you first met with him. Disgusting… Listen, sweetie? I need you to do something for me."
"You should start keeping a journal. If anything strikes you as peculiar. I have a feeling it will help the both of us if we keep a record of whatever goes on here; set things straight for later. Let me see it when you've finished too.
"If that's what you think is best," Stuart said, tilting his head slightly. "What do you think is going on?"
"I… I don't know. Hopefully, it's just a means of industrial efficiency. Is there anything else I should know?"
"… Did I tell you about the wolf?"
"Yes, one of the other kids told me about a wolf that walks around here in the underground floor."
"… Did you get a name?"
"Did you hear a name? Does the wolf have a name?"
It was hard to read Clovis's face: the only parts of her face that weren't bone or fleshy holes was the tissue just above where her nose would be. Despite this, Stuart could easily sense an uneasy look in her eyes.
"… Yes, actually. Its name was Fred I think? A kid told me that Morgan put him there. Clovis? Are you okay?"
"I'm-I'm fine… Stuart, you should come by tomorrow, as soon as you've done everything you're supposed to. And I'm serious about that journal now. Anything out of place, and if not, anything of note."
"Why? What's going on?"
"Nothing," she said, already preparing to move out the door. "Get some rest. Or some work if you're starting that now. We will continue the lessons further. I'm sorry, I have some preparations to make."
But he spoke too late. She had already shut the door behind her, leaving Stuart to himself, in near silence.
The only thing left accompanying him was the persistent hum of a motor in the background.
Day 1; (Friday) Morning (First work day):
Starting this journal off, I suppose I should start off by stating its purpose. I'm going to try and record everything I can here, whether it be from Morgan or Joey or you or whoever does something I don't want to forget, personal reasons, or no, so I'm sorry if I repeat something that you already know. Who knows, it might help.
Now, that out of the way, of all the things that worried me, I'm glad to say that working at First Hound will probably be one of the least of my worries.
After talking with you, I pretty much headed straight there. It's a pub. It's rowdy, full of drunks, and the music is a front for a more… visual entertainment half the time, but it's filled with a certain happiness. That's more than I can say for anywhere else in Haven. The job's reasonably easy; stand in a corner, wait for someone to come along, shine their shoes, wait for the next one.
There's a bit more to it, I have to be agreeable with whatever they spew from their mouth. Wives, bosses, slaves, it doesn't matter what it is.
Yes sir, yes sir, yes sir, all that and this. I doubt they even process what I'm telling them, they're so drunk. Still though, the Hound does get some nice acts. Most of the work I do is done at closing time though, 6:30 AM. Then I get to clean sludge off the floor. Child's play really, I've done more than that back at the Estate. Also, the Hound does have an excellent fish fry.
I do question the origin of the messes though. It's as black as the shoe polish I use. To tell you the truth, I thought that was what it was at first, but it's too runny. Plus, they looked more like spills than tracks. Might want to look into that.
I still haven't seen this wolf down here. I was beginning to wonder if Joey was pulling a joke on me, but the way you acted when I mentioned its name, I'm reconsidering that. You haven't struck me as someone who'd joke about that.
Thankfully, the day is over. Despite everything down here, everything seems almost normal topside. For now though, I'm very tired.
It feels like it will be one of those mornings where I'm too exhausted to sleep.
Day 2; (Friday/Saturday)
Evening (Moved out):
Referencing the previous entry, yes, it was one of those mornings. On top of my exhaustion, the other kids would not let me rest. I had to explain to each one, one after another, that I work a night shift, and worked under a different schedule than them, but even then, they wouldn't be quiet. Espen doesn't seem to sleep at all, and there was a girl who wouldn't stop screaming about what was hers.
I eventually had to leave the room altogether to sleep in the reactor room with you: I refuse to put up with all that. I suppose it's for the best, because you said we needed to practice some more, and sleeping here will save me the walk over. Plus, the hum of the engine is strangely soothing. Rhythmic.
I only wish I could stay longer. Had to reserve some time to get ready and write this before work. Almost out of time. Maybe I'll find out some more tonight.
Morning (Wolf's Pitch): I looked into it, but I was not expecting the sludge to be a drink. Apparently, it's something called a "house-brew", and unique to the First Hound only. They call it "Wolf's Pitch" apparently, which is appropriate I suppose. Seems to be very popular with the patrons, it's all I ever see in their glasses come to think of it.
One of the patrons offered me a glass when I was expressing an interest. After knowing it was a drink, it did look appetizing. It was thick for a liquid, and obviously alcoholic, but the way it moved in the glass, and its reflective, solid black… I'm not going to lie, it looked very appetizing.
I couldn't help myself. I'm not a stranger to alcohol; I drank champagne, wine, vodka, a lot of things from Acacia's cellar, and I can honestly say that I've never drank something like that before.
I'm not particularly well versed in beverage descriptions, but Wolf's Pitch's distinguishing quality is how fleshy it is. It didn't feel like I was drinking something, it felt like I was eating a particularly slippery steak. It's thick. Thicker than any molasses, but at the same time, very smooth. Velvety?
I almost drank the entire pint because of its (literal) weight. I was expecting it to ooze slowly out of the pint. And it would have gone down too. For the half that actually did, I didn't even get the chance to swallow it voluntarily, it just rushed down my throat by its own weight and general slipperiness. It's very Big? Elegant? Opulent. Very, very opulent.
As for the taste, it caught me off guard. Its darkness implied a sort of charcoal taste, but I'm not sure how to place it. I hardly managed to taste it in my mouth before the after taste set in. It has a very cigar box-like taste too, very sweet, very smokey, though I wouldn't call it very woody.
It's heady as hell too. I went from sober to embarrassingly drunk seconds after I drank it just for reference. And it was just half a pint! I've had vodka that did less than that in more time!
… I'm now beginning to realize how unusual Wolf's Pitch is from how alcohol usually works. I know I tasted a bit of alcohol, but for that kind of effect, I'd expect a more… obvious taste to it. Judging from the effects, I should have tasted something like paint thinner, not… well, that.
And shouldn't my sobering up have been more… gradual? Everything seemed very sudden, going from normal to debauched in seconds, debauched to pleasurably buzzed in thirty minutes, and maintaining that buzz ten hours later… I feel like I was sold answers, but I only got more questions…
I feel off… but I really want more. The drink, this feeling, it all seems oddly familiar.
Day 3; (Saturday/Sunday)
Evening (A dream, lessons, and service):
I had just woke up from a dream. It's rare that I ever dream, so this one struck me in particular. I'm unsure how to describe it, but I had no control over myself. I was the predator in a forest engulfed by flames. Definitely not human, I distinctly remember being on all fours.
Bodies, animal bodies, were pinned to these planks of wood, either burning or upside down and covered in some kind of mud. The latter reminded me of someone getting sentenced to be tarred, but… You never think of how painfull something is unless it's right in front of you. It's like once someone gives something a term, you never think about its implications unless it involves you somehow.
"They were burned or tarred" doesn't hold the same weight as the actual sight. I winced from looking at them.
I wandered by myself until the flames died down, and everything was burnt to charcoal. It must have been a while, but I realized that snow began to fall. That's when I saw a snow rabbit approach me. At first, I was terrified that I'd do something to hurt her or her me, but I didn't. She didn't.
Instead, she put her head against mine, and the charred forest around us turned white with snow. She led me away from the bodies, but not before I noticed the snow pull them all down beneath it. It's hard to explain, but I felt happier with her, and she seemed to share my sentiment about what happened here. She led me to a small clearing, and we lied down together. It's odd. The snow should have been cold as it formed a blanket over us, but it was warm. Comfortably so.
Despite this, the moment felt very somber. Mournful even. As I fell asleep in the dream, I woke up on the surface, coming here to write this as soon as I woke up.
And it's only until now that I realized I've been referring to the rabbit as a she… Does this rabbit represent anyone? It's not you, it's definitely someone else. The way the rabbit moved, the way I felt towards her, it doesn't correlate to you.
I will admit, I do have some feelings for you, but it was not those types of feelings. I apologize if this sounds off, but the emotions I have for you are closer to those I would have for a mother, or family member, not… not like the ones in the dream.
You said I shouldn't have any more of that drink. I have to agree with your sentiment, I'm sorry for ever drinking it, but it was just so good.
I woke up early today. Can't go back to sleep. I convinced you into letting me in on what you planned for tonight, responding with "guitar or violin first?". Apparently, you've been wanting me to learn an instrument, since it's more subtle than a sword… apparently. I'm unsure what you mean by that, but alright. I went with the guitar, since it felt more at home at the First Hound (I don't think you've seen the place, have you?).
"I expect something great from you, Sweetie."
I'm still nervous from it all… I'm wondering if it's really necessary, but I digress. You haven't steered me wrong before.
It just dawned on me, tomorrow's Sunday. That's the day most churches gather, isn't it? I think I heard Joey say something about all of us being required to attend yesterday. I can only imagine the brimstone that'll spew from his mouth. Oh, and so late too. Normally I'd be sound asleep…
Well that's great then.
Morning (This is just… disgusting):
… I don't even know where to begin with today. I'll skip how awful I felt throughout the whole day. Wolf's Pitch was on my mind throughout the whole night, but that service?
It began with Morgan standing at the pulpit, a large chandelier dangling overhead of him. He wasn't wearing any priestly robes or gowns, just his usual three piece suits. He stood there, saying nothing, and doing nothing for most of the sermon, only occasionally raising his arms to signal applause from the congregation.
Then I noticed how rapt everyone was. It looked like they were just listening for something, or like Morgan was actually saying something, and I wasn't seeing it. I almost jumped when he actually did say something.
This isn't a direct quote, but he said something to the like of "Now, the time has come. Bring her to me," as he went to take off his jacket in favor of a smock and gloves. A few seconds after he said that, I heard the doors open, and saw Espen pushing out a girl, maybe around eight years old, restrained to a table.
I recognized the straps. They're the kind that asylums use to restrict movement before treatment… I should have realized what was happening long before he actually said it. I remembered these words… vividly.
"Today, we have a very serious case," he began. "This young girl my assistant is rolling up to me is Rachel. Now, her parents have come up to me, and told me she has been acting very strangely. She has been talking back, causing ruckus, even going as far as to refuse a direct order from her parents! Far from the sweet little thing she used to be. Her parents have come to me to try and bring that little girl back."
"Do you hear me Rachel? Your parents are worried about you."
Those words made me freeze. I don't know what was worse, the subject of the matter, or the calm tone in his voice as he said it, which was very uncharacteristic of him from what I've heard. All I could see was the girl struggling in her bands from under the thin sheet they placed over her prior. I don't think she was even wearing clothes, the sheet seemed to be her only cover from what I saw.
Morgan went on, but my attention drifted towards what he was doing to that girl. He took a out a sort of head brace and had it strapped to her before forcefully opening her left eye, and holding it open with some kind of grip from the brace before grabbing a tool. It looked like a thin metal stick, or a very long needle.
He stuck it in her eye. He stuck it in her eye deep, and everyone was fine with it. They encouraged it, prayed as he was doing it. She tried to scream, but she was gagged, and her sound was overpowered by Morgan's speech… Like he was giving some kind of seance. I don't even know how she's still alive.
It had to have gone into her brain, because he was wedging the stick around afterwards. She should have died, and I thought she did when she stopped resisting him, but once he finished and unchained her, she just sat up like nothing even happened. She wasn't scared, crying, or anything. I'd say she was nothing, but she seemed almost blissful.
Everyone exclaimed as she sat up, and I caught a few glares for not doing so along with them.
I asked around afterwards but people, the ones that didn't tell me to shove off that is, couldn't give me a straight answer. The only thing I could catch was "psychic surgery". I don't think anyone actually knows what religion he's preaching. If there is any. Am I the only one seeing it like this?
They said God was with him. I'm not religious at all, but if I was, I'd say that there is no god here. And if there was, I don't want to meet him.
I'm scared Clovis. I want to go back home. I know you'll probably be back by the time I finish writing this, but I feel I need you right now. I hate this place. It's disgusting… He is disgusting.
I want Haven to burn. I want him to burn.
Day 4; (Sunday/Monday)
Evening (Thank you, Clovis):
Thank you for being there for me after writing the previous entry. I… I really needed you there; my mind was in a dark place after seeing… that. I agree, your plan makes sense. We'll continue the lessons.
However, I'm still concerned about this wolf. I'm not sure what it is, I haven't seen it at all, and the mere thought of a wild animal walking around here is unsettling. I… had a thought about Joey today. It might be nothing, but… I need to be sure. I'll continue it in the next half of the entry.
Morning (Joey): I talked to Joey after work today. I had a thought about him at the sermon: Joey has been wearing an eye patch since I've met him, and he said once that he got in trouble with Morgan. About the wolf. If I was going to learn anything about this wolf, he is the one I'd have to go to.
My suspicions have been confirmed when I confronted him with it.
Sometime before me, Joey had been trying to get help from outside. "Speaking out when he shouldn't have," using his own words. Morgan tried to 'convince' him to stay silent, but Joey still drew attention despite it. It wasn't until he was caught spying on Morgan until he was made an example of.
I felt like he has been hesitant in telling me more before. Now I see why. Joey told me that he was one of Morgan's first, when it came to the surgeries. Apparently though, Morgan wasn't entirely successful. He managed to slip and got his eye instead. Skewered it, and managed to pull it out of its socket. Regardless of what Morgan was trying to do, Joey got his message.
Morgan does this performance act called "faith healing" once a week to rid people of their demons for anyone who asks. Pulls names out of a hat, unless there's anything he finds urgent. The one I saw yesterday was one of those… acts.
This "psychic surgery" is apparently his specialty now. He practices other types of healing, most of them are much less gruesome, but most of them also rely on a delusion they have an effect. This one is his most effective, since it attacks their frontal lobe.
Joey told me that I should stop looking into it. He said that he knew what I was getting at, and he wanted me to stop. He warned me of what might happen to me. Even showed me what Morgan did to him, the crater where his eye used to be… I understood his sentiment, but I don't care. This needs to end.
A place like this shouldn't exist; I refuse to keep on knowing that there was something I could do about it.
He must have known that nothing he could've said would've stopped me, because he told me of a spot down below the stage. According to him, if I crawled under the altar’s platform, there's a ventilation system that would let me hear into his room. Apparently, his bed is right underground with us, just secluded from us. He used to use it before another one of his spots was found out.
We're starting tonight.
Day 5; (Monday/Tuesday)
Evening (Lessons and Tomorrow's morning plans):
Last morning's lessons involved Wolf's Pitch, which is why I didn't update last entry. Honestly, I was prepared to give it up, but if drinking it is going to help "move things along for me," I see no reason why not. You only gave me a tiny glass of it though! I could hardly enjoy it…
Though, I suppose it wouldn't help learning how to play an instrument while utterly cast. Does Wolf's Pitch have something in it I'm unaware of? What is it made of? I've heard of some artists using laudanum to help them with inspiration. Am I drinking this for similar reasons?
I'm not saying that laudanum is an ingredient to it, it couldn't; they're selling this in a pub. The only thing there is alcohol and cigars. Laudanum is too expensive for the price it's selling for… and illegal with no prescription.
I noticed something during: you didn't really show me any notes. You've simply played a few dissonant chords, not even tuning the guitar, gave me the guitar, and told me to play "the first song that comes to mind."
I don't know what it was. I began to play… something. It had rhythm, melody, an idea of where it would go. It didn't feel as if I was learning an instrument, it felt as if I was only out of practice, or I was learning a variant of an art form I already knew. What I played was not perfect by any means, but it sounded as if I had played it before.
When I finished, you took the guitar, and copied what I've played, but better. Not perfect, but better. Then you handed it back to me, and told me to play it better than you had. We exchanged the guitar back and forth, getting progressively better until you played it for the fifth time, and ended the lesson. Or did you, really?
You asked me to go bed and, being reasonably drunk, I was able to oblige. The dream with the snow rabbit came back. I felt similar to how I felt towards this rabbit when I met her during the first dream… The forest wasn't snowed over, or burnt. There was life there.
Where we were, the trees were turning into this pleasant shade of orange. I wasn't the student in the vision, I was the teacher. Think the rabbit and I were exchanging art forms, but I forget what she was teaching… I think dancing, but I suppose that wouldn't matter now.
The way I taught her didn't involve notes. It was more like… learning how to speak? Or maybe how to walk? It was something along those lines. Something that comes naturally to most. She picked it up well… As well as I did when you were teaching me.
We finished the lesson, and laid down beside each other, my head on her shoulder and my forearm holding hers. Most of what happened outside of the lesson was a blur, but… we were happy. I remember that. Every time I reminisce of these dreams, it leaves me wanting more of them.
Bittersweet. That's the only word I can think of to describe the feeling. Do the other patrons feel like this whenever they drink? Why are humans treating Wolf's Pitch like standard vodka? I don't understand.
Regardless, it's helping immensely… in its own way. But for tomorrow's matters, Espen is of concern. I need to know their involvement in all of this.
Espen seems to be working directly under Morgan, and Espen has shown signs of performing some form of summoning. If that's not something of interest, I don't know what is. Getting late, have to leave.
I learned what Espen's job was.
My shift ends where theirs begins, so I often see them while locking up. They always tend to stop by the chapel for a moment before going off on their own. I think they're dropping off the bear with Morgan, but they tend to stay with Morgan for long. Maybe for a half hour. I have no idea what they're doing, but whatever it is, I'm sure it's something shameless on Morgan's part. He's done enough to that poor kid.
I managed to make myself some breakfast tea to wake myself up in the meantime, but eventually Espen left. I noticed something about Espen and their bear:
They seem… different without it. Their movement is just so stiff, and their stare so blank; it's as if they're more machine than anything else. I followed them to the underground entrance, and I saw them don a mask of sorts before going under. It looked like their bear… I'm not sure why. It might look like their bear to comfort them, but given what I heard from the wolf, I think it was more for it than Espen.
Of course, it was very hard to follow them. I haven't mentioned this here, but it's bloody dark in the Underground's halls. You have to rely on feeling around for walls and memorizing the turns for a sense of where you are. The only light under here is inside the actual rooms, so you're blinded every time you open a door.
I was able to hear Espen as I walked through the hall. They were whistling, and pretty loudly too. I didn't realize it was intentionally loud until I felt the wolf grab my head, and give it a heavy shove of a clawed hand. I know it was the wolf. I heard him growl, I felt his fur, I heard my neck crunch against the metal wall before collapsing to the floor. For a moment, I couldn't feel anything below my neck.
I landed face first on the floor as it walked over me. Then I saw Espen open the door, them filling the hall with light. I saw the Wolf. It… It wasn't normal. I feel compelled to compare it to a man given its posture and muscular build, but its head, its fur coat and tail… It looks as if he was a wolf who had decided to walk on two feet, or a man in wolf's clothing. Espen didn't so much as filch.
They grabbed the Wolf's hand, or paw, it looked like a hand but it had claws and pads on its palms, and led it into the room. My neck hurt so much from before, I had to spend a minute to snap it back into place, which somehow hurt even more. I practically fainted from it the first time, but I didn't have to do it myself then.
I managed to get back to spying on them in time for the show. Espen had the Wolf tied down, strapped to a rack and poured some motor oil-like drink through a funnel into its mouth… We both know what brand it was Clovis. I think it was using Pitch as a sort of sedative for what they were about to do.
Espen cut its chest open…
I don't want to see any more of this. There's only so much you can take before just quitting on trying to understand it all. They cut into his chest, and took out what I think were its large and small intestines. There wasn't a stomach before, or at least, it wasn't attached to his intestines when they took it out… Not for long though, because Espen took out both of them, and carried them over to a chopping block and cutting them in two with a pair of large clippers. They went back to the Wolf, took the stomach, and had it sown back in to connect the gap they'd made.
Espen's been making or altering or helping the Wolf for Morgan.
I'd say I'm shocked, but I don't know how to feel anymore. Joey told me that he's become used to this. I don't want to get used to this, but the more I look into this… Morgan's been geasing people to come here. We'll see how that holds up against itself.
Day 6; (Tuesday/Wednesday)
Wish me luck.
To be written.
Clovis remained seated for what, to her, seemed like weeks. She wanted to cry after reading what Stuart wrote down, but her eyes had lost that function a long time ago. Instead, she only stammered. This isn't what he wanted when he did this to himself. She regretted interfering, maybe he would have had a real mother if she hadn't.
No, this is better for the long run, she told herself. They both wanted normal lives, but these things were going to catch up to them unprepared if their grief-blind plan went through unhindered. This is necessary, forgetting their offences will not make everything okay. They needed to know how to prepare for this, it had to be done.
Clovis took a deep breath, and flipped back to a part in his journal she took interest of: he told me of a spot down below the stage. According to him, if I crawled under the altar’s platform, there's a ventilation system that would let me hear into his room. Apparently, his bed is right underground with us, just secluded from us. It might be best to have a chat with the source of all this, show herself, if he didn't already know of her presence. Clovis shut Stuart's book and took it with her. It might actually come in handy. He'd be at the First Hound right about now, probably trying to find a way to introduce himself to the First Hound owner.
It may have been because she was used to such environments, but navigating through the underground was not much of a bother for her. She understood why Stuart might have difficulty with it all, but she was almost content to crawl along the ceiling, avoiding any urchins that may be happening by.
Not many shops were open around this time at night. Only a few restaurants and the First Hound, none of which were too close to where she needed to go anyways. It wasn't likely that she'd be discovered by going outside this once. It'd take a close look to find something amiss about her, since she already had a half-decent disguise anyways.It was a short distance between the exit and the reactor room, and an even shorter distance between the exit and the chapel, she was practically there before she realized it. Clovis approached the chapel's enormous wooden doors, looking over her shoulder for any possible witnesses to her entry. None.It was odd seeing this sort of door inside. The door was so huge, a smaller door was installed out of necessity. She creeped the doors open; it was unlocked. That probably means someone is inside, or left for just a moment, Clovis thought to herself, quietly peering inside and clutching.
It didn't look like anyone was there, thankfully. The chapel seemed almost eerie, the sudden lack of praying masses almost jarring. She walked though the pews, thinking to herself what kind of religion is this anyways? as she pilfered a leather book from the pews. The cover seemed to imply it was a religious text, but there were no words or symbols indicating an actual religion.
Maybe the text itself will help? she thought, opening the book.
There was no text. Blank page after black page, no publication, no copyright, ink has not touched this book, nor any others she had searched until, eventually, she found the one page that did,
Ears raised, she immediately heard the sound of the door's handle being grasped. Need to get to the altar.Running as fast as she could manage, she dove under the altar's stage, concealed by the stage drape.
Did he see me? Fuck, fuck, fuck, she hoped her cover wasn't blown. The person approached the altar to where she dove, and jumped up onto the stage above her, the sound of his steps slowly fading out as he moved towards the back of the stage before she heard the slam of a door.
Relief overcame her, as she crawled towards the back of the stage further, looking for this vent Joey had told Stuart about. Crawling forward, she lifted the stage drape and found a small, bronze plated vent practically hidden.
Pressing an ear against it, Clovis could hear the steps a lot clearer. Finally, she heard his old decrepit voice. Definitely Morgan.
"Evening, came into check on you. how's my favorite benefactor today?"
There was a brief pause, but no response.
"Come now, you can't keep up this silence, you know. I'm that only one who speaks with you."
"… No, what?"
"No, I do not want to speak with you. I see neither business, nor pleasure in it."
"Well I'm sorry to hear that. I thought you were meant to be polite, especially in one's own home."
"That is what I'm doing. I have nothing polite to say, so I am electing not to say anything. Although I am unsure why I bother, this is my home. I worked for it, not you." This voice sounded so familiar to Clovis. Could this really be him?
"You're under contract, Fredrick. It's all fair, so long as I hold my end of the deal." It was.
"… So, do you want anything?"
"You know what I want."
"… Nothing then. In that case, I will be going out. I suppose I will see you when I return then."
"Good. So long then."
Shortly after, Clovis heard the thuds of steps just above her, trailing off until they finally reached the chapel's oversized door, and closed it with a slam.
"Clovis, come on in! I've been dying to see you," Fredrick exclaimed.
She was taken at first about how he knew she was there, but then again, of course he knew. He warned her to hide. "I'll be there in a bit."
"Just behind the stage, I'm sure you'll find it… Though you'll have to get out from beneath it first, doll."
Crawling out from beneath and climbing on top of the set to find the door to Morgan's quarters, she prayed to herself. Please let him understand, please let him understand. Don't be let him be mad.he opened the door and looked down the metal spiral stairway inside seeing a warm, friendly glow radiating from the bottom. The downstairs led to an immaculate living quarters; practically everything was made of mahogany wood or clean marble, works of art in gold frames were hung liberally on the wall, and a bed fit for five crafted primarily out of imported Egyptian cotton. This entire place reeked of luxury.
"Clovis! Come in, come in! I'm in the office, first door to your right," the Wolf said.
Entering the office, Clovis was greeted to the sight of an extravagant mahogany desk with an ornate, cast iron frame. The desk seemed almost alive, carved with imagery and symbols Clovis was all too familiar with. It had been many millenniums since she had seen many of these scenes, but they were hard to forget.
The desk reminded her of the First War, her betrayal, the theft of the score, and so many other memories that were painful to be remembering. The cast iron frame, placed at the sides of the desk, were molded into the form of a large wolf's forearms. Behind the desk was a tall, high arched back chair with similar motifs, but one carving seemed to address Clovis directly. At first, it appeared to be Jesus pinned to the cross, but that wouldn't have made sense in context with everything else in Haven.
As she moved forward, it became clearer that it was not a man, but the Wolf, Fredrick. The voice calling her forward spoke up again.
"How are you, doll? Long time no see! You haven't aged a day I see. I hope you haven't forgotten about me, have you?"
"No, how could I?… Where are you?"
"You're looking at me."
"… The desk?"
"Yes, sorry you have to see me like this. I'll be moving on from this soon enough. Pull up a chair! We have a lot to talk about."
"So," Fredrick continued. "Are you okay? What have you been up to? Meet up with any pretty girls while I was away? Oh! What did you do with On Mount Golgotha? You got rid of it, right? It's unsafe to keep it around. Even if you can't die, you, or anyone for that matter, shouldn't be around it."
"I-I'm alright. It's been… difficult. Don't worry, the score's gone. Buried."
"Oh, good. Thank the Thirteen. How long ago? Where?"
"… A thousand years. After I… She…"
"… Say no more, I understand. I'm just glad to have you back, doll. It's been too long."
"… We need to talk."
"Yes. Yes we do. I have a lot of explaining to do, don't I? Where do you want to start?"
"Why are you a desk?"
"… Not the first question I was expecting, I'll give you that. The desk and chair are my effigies. A man in America, Anderson, made this desk with the intent of me inhabiting it. I suppose he thought it convenient. Let's just say I haven't talked with him very much, and based on what I've heard of him, he has some very skewed opinions on me, and what I want. Sent me here, to a business partner of his, of whom, I have the displeasure of knowing."
"Yes… Him. Better than Anderson, I'll give him that, but a monster's a monster… But enough about that, I'm sure you have other things on your mind."
"I do actually. Why are you here? Why are you helping this person? This, what he's been doing, isn't anything like you."
"… You know, I've been expecting this question ever since Suwaird was reborn? I've been trying to think of an answer that properly explains all of this, but… No. I came to him because it was my best shot at a body on Earth. Not just… this, but a true body. One of flesh and bone."
"Do you know what he's been doing?"
"Not as much as I'd like. He's been trying his best to keep me in the dark about his activities… But that just tells me he's not to be trusted. "
Clovis paused, and placed Stuart's journal on top of the desk.
"Stuart's account of what's been happening. It has most of what's been going on, from a victim's perspective."
"Victim?… Let me read it, put it in my drawer," Fredrick said, allowing a drawer to slide open. Clovis obliged, and gave him a few moments to process everything.
"I know what to do with him," he began, anger beginning to show. "His Haven will crumble, and nothing will be salvaged. He deserves everything Anderson got."
"… What did he get?"
"… I'm sorry, doll. This's nothing to discuss with your daughter. He's a bad man, let's leave it at that. I'd love your help in it. It's just the first step towards returning things back to the way they were."
"Just what do you mean by that?"
"Well, I mean just back to the way things were! Before humans messed it all up, before hunger, paradise! And now that you and Suw-… Stuart I should say, are here with me, we'll be ever closer!"
"Before humans? You don't mean getting rid of them, do you?"
"… Yes? I'm sorry, is that a problem? Clovis, are you saying they shouldn't pay for what they did?"
"Yes! Humans are nothing like they were when you met them."
"You're right, they went from very stupid to very greedy. Not much of an improvement, is it?"
"Okay, Fredrick, how many humans have you met lately? Ones that are alive?"
"… Two… five if I count you, Stuart, and Espen, but I don't."
"Okay, that's fine, but do you know how many humans are out there? A few million."
"What are you getting at?"
"Do you truly think everyone is like this? You have a two person basis, and let's be honest, wouldn't you say you're a tad biased? Are we all like the serpent? You would be upset if we were compared to… it, wouldn't you?"
"… I would."
"Listen, I'm just saying that not all of them are like… this, like Morgan, or Anderson. Many of them are the kindest people I've ever met. They aren't perfect by any means, but they don't deserve what you're suggesting."
"… You say this. You're my daughter. And you have more experience with them than anyone else I know…"
"Listen, I'll help you, and Stuart will as well, at least for this, but we should discuss terms."
"… Alright. I will give them a chance. Them, not Morgan."
"That is all I ask."
"I'm… glad we can come to a consensus. So, what would you suggest?"
"I said no. We have enough performers already. Besides, I need you here."
"I can still do that if you want me to, but please, I'm only asking for fifteen minutes of your time, two if you don't like it. What do you have to lose?"
"… Huh, I doubt you could handle shining shoes and cleaning up the floors and tables while up on the stage," the owner looked down at Stuart, and sighed. The First Hound had just closed up shop, and the pub was vacant. He was right about one thing; there really was nothing to lose. If the child was allowed to perform, it was not as if he weren't replaceable: shoe shiners are cheap. The worst thing that could honestly happen is a small portion of wasted time. "Ugh, fine, fine. Let's get it over with. What, do you sing? Dance? What?"
"Oh, thank you! I can sing a little, but I'd like to play the guitar too."
"Oh. Huh. That's unusual. Whenever I get some apprentice, they always go for the acts without no instruments… Well, you can find everything you need on the stage."
"Excellent! I promise you, you won't be disappointed."
The owner thought otherwise. "Just get on with it," he said, taking a seat towards the tables nearest to the stage.
Stuart climbed up the stage, grabbed the guitar, and pulled up a footstool. He took a deep breath, blocking out the judging gaze of the owner, and began to play the first song that he could remember.
On The Banks Of The Wabas came to him immediately. Too immediately, Stuart thought to himself. I haven't practiced this song nearly enough, why am I playing it? And it's a quartet piece! Why am I playing On The Banks Of The Wabash?! Why didn't I just play Clovis's song? I was at least familiar with that! Blazes, now I have to commit to it… There's no chance he will like this.
Stuart felt this way for a long while, until he felt his time slip by. What was in reality three or four minutes felt like a fortnight. Has time really slowed this much? Why hasn't this blowhard cut me off yet? Stuart thought before he finished his piece, and looked up to find the formerly impatient owner.
The man, previously ready to leave the child to clean the tables was utterly rapt in Stuart's performance. "That was… Son, that was better than most of the acts I have already… If you can do what you just did in front of me, I think I could spare some time for ya."
Stuart practically choked. "You… You liked it?"
"Kid, you're great, believe me. I swear, I thought you'd have to sell your soul to the devil to even come close to getting that good this young."
"O-Oh. Thank you! When would you like me on? Would you like me on?"
"I want you as soon as possible! I'll see you tonight. Now go on, get outta here; practice and show off to your friends. You ain't shining shoes any more."
"I will! Thank you!" Stuart said, bursting out the pub and sprinted down the hall, eager to get back to Clovis. He was practically skipping along the way; he didn't even acknowledge the complete darkness of the gloomy underground he had been walking through to get back to her.
I could not be more proud of you. Knock them dead! With all of my love, -C
Stuart stared at the note, previously been tied to the finest guitar Stuart had ever seen, with a smile. Evidently, Clovis had taken the previous guitar they had used for practice, and replaced it with a expertly crafted, black guitar with a fine silver trim. The guitar's finish had been so pitch black, it had made its surroundings seem bright in comparison. It were as if the guitar had been devouring the surrounding darkness to make way for the light.
He lifted the guitar. It felt intense in his hands; light, but powerful enough to move mountains. He stroked its strings to tune it, but it seemed that Clovis had already beat him to it. The sound it spoke was sweeter than honey, but thunderous. Triumphant, perhaps was the right word.
He had been nervous, but the excitement he had had for the moment took over any feeling of anxiety he may have had. Knowing that Clovis was in all likelihood hiding within earshot made Stuart feel so much more calm about going on stage. He wasn't the main attraction, of course, but to be in the position he was in now was more than enough.
The performance before him was, in terms of quality, decent. They had stumbled a few times, their footing was occasionally misplaced, and there was a point where the lead singer's voice sounded slightly off-key, but they recovered well and no one seemed to notice their mistakes. Stuart watched them exit the stage past him.
"Congrats, they really loved you tonight!" Stuart began, still somewhat anxious about going on in a matter of seconds.
"Thank ye kid, break a leg," one of the group members said walking past.
"Thanks I- Wait what?" But they didn't seem to hear Stuart's question, as they kept walking forward.
The announcer began his announcement, "Ladies and gentlemen, raise your glasses and put your hands together for our very own, Stuart Hayward!" He had to go, no time to question their wishing Stuart to break his leg, or the leg of anyone else. That probably wasn't meant to be taken literally anyways, they probably meant 'good luck' or something similar.
He emerged anxiously from the back stage's curtains and looked towards the audience. It was a busy night; Stuart had a clear view of every table, and he couldn't find a single one that was unoccupied. The audience gave a mild applause as Stuart found his seat. He took a deep breath, and began to lightly pluck the strings and sing out with the softest voice he could give.
He wasn't afraid any longer. He stopped caring about whatever the audience had been thinking about his performance, the only thing that mattered was his song. The words were soothing, even to Stuart as they escaped his throat; his guitar serenading the usually rowdy audience into silence.
Stuart was happy, content with himself as he approached the song's final verse. After his song had ended, he took a deep breath in and instantly remembered he was performing in front of an audience. His body became rigid as he sat and gazed into the audience, silent as the grave. Stuart stood to take his leave, and in doing so, the audience roared with excitement, cheering him on as he flinched at the noise suddenly exploding around him.
He was taken aback from the praise at first, not knowing whether they were exclamations of joy or outrage, but as he took his bow, he the audience practically deafened by their applauses and whistles. He grabbed his guitar and made his way off stage. The manager would probably want to see him.
Stuart made his way past the crowded tables and to the kitchen, and found the manager observing the crowd's reactions.
"Uh, sir? Did I do well?" Stuart began.
"Hmm? Oh, kid, you were great! They ate you up like nothing else! Looks like you're gonna be a regular if you keep this up!"
"R-really? That's… blazes… That's great!"
"Yes it is. You're gonna bring in people from all over!"
Stuart laughed nervously "Haha… I'm glad I'll be helping you out… Does this mean I'm going to be given a regular time slot from now?"
"Several! You're on your way to being a star, kid!"
"Oh thank you!"
"I'm telling you kid, keep this up, and they'll never forget your name!"
"Hahhah… Thank you… Would it be much to ask for a specific time?"
"Hm? Well, depends on the hour I suppose…"
"What about Sundays at ten o'clock?"
"Sure, you want that night, you can have it. Whole day's empty, really."
"Oh, not at night. Ten in the morning."
"… Why would you want that hour? Everyone'll be in sermon by then."
"I'm aware," Stuart said with a smile.
"… Well okay… You can have it. You'll be missing the sermon on work leave, but that's your business I guess. Any other hours?"
"Hmm… The last spot on Saturday I suppose. That aside, I'm just fine with any night you'd like me. Later the better, really."
"Well, I'll have to set up some better hours on top of those… May I ask why you want them?"
"I know that some people would like to see me by then, in time."
"… Well, I lose nothing out of it, so if that's what you want, you can have them."
"Thank you! I appreciate it very much."
"No problem. Now go on, go play."
And with him dismissed, he left the bar, guitar in tow and confidence in his stride. Daily, he'd play for the First Hound, just for a song or two, if only to advertise for his larger shows. He left the audience wanting more each time, wanting to hear more than just one simple song, just as Clovis had advised.
But each weekend, he gave his performance his all. He caught many of the attendees Father Morgan's sermons on their way to pray to the false preacher. The differences in the crowds seemed negligible at first, with Father Morgan's communion outnumbering Stuart's audience by a hundred to one. However, week after week went by with Morgan's attention dwindling to only the families who had asked to be healed. The Manager of the First Hound had even begun to commission Joey to draw advertisements for Stuart's showings, which almost seemed to compete with those advertising Father Morgan's.
Meanwhile, Morgan sat at Freddie's desk, undisturbed.
"So, we've been getting less and less donations each week. Everyone seems to be going to see this… Stuart kid."
"Huh… And here I thought you were never going to bring that up." The Wolf mused.
"Never really mattered. I get a cut of the First Hound's profits, so more or less, I'm making the same amount of money as I did before. If not, more. I might have him to play more."
"… You're treating the end of our contract rather well."
"I suppose you forgot? The contract states that you, me, or our creations must be making the majority of your monthly income in any long-term monetary venture we are part in. You, or a machine we built. Not Stuart. Your fake sermons and our power plant systems made roughly thirty percent of Haven Harbor's profits last month. Now, you're an estimated twenty, while the First Hound, specifically, is making about twenty five."
"I'm afraid so. By the end of this month, assuming the profits don't start flowing our way again, the contract'll end. Then I'll be free to do as I please."
"… I… Why didn't you bring this up sooner?"
"You only just now brought it up… and I'm not exactly your biggest fan."
"You dirty mutt!… You did this on purpose! You were supposed to be honest with me!"
Fredrick growled faintly at the preacher's insult. "The contract only states that I simply can not lie to you, and you never asked for advice. May I remind you that I'm physically incapable of breaking the rules?"
"Shut up, and tell me how to fix this you fucking mutt."
Fredrick suppressed his anger and tried to keep a calm demeanor. He did not want to advise the ingrate, but he had to give him his best. "Would you like a full summary?"
"The child has been using magic to attract his audience exactly as you have, but for reasons unrelated to this conversation, he's better equipped to perform it than you. His work is of better quality, and he does not require material components to carry it out. He's purposely using an enchanted guitar to aid him in stealing your audience away from you."
"He's… He's using magic too?… So… What if I confiscated this guitar of his? Would that fix everything?"
"Not in time. Assuming he didn't create another one, he'd be slightly less popular, but he'd still have most of your people."
"… What if I… Had him treated?"
Fredrick paused, cursing to himself. He knew very well what Morgan was suggesting, and what's more: he knew he had to tell him. "… Yes. Without him playing his show, most audience members would opt to see you instead. More so if his shows stopped entirely."
Morgan gave a sigh of relief, and smiled. "Thank you. That'll be all for now. I'll have to ask Espen to see if it will fetch him for me… Well, no better time for that than the present. Have a good day Fredrick."
Soon after saying this, Morgan had left the dog to himself, alone, hungrier than before.
Chapter 12Stuart jumped up from his makeshift bed. At first, he thought that he was still dreaming. The figure standing before him didn't seem to belong. He groggily looked up to see Espen looking down toward him.
"E-Espen? Blazes… How… How long were you standing there?"
Espen gave no response.
"… Do you do this to other people? This is the second time I caught you watching me sleep… That's not very considerate you know…"
They were still silent.
"… Where's your bear? I thought you brought it everywhere… Wait, why are you wearing your mask? I thought you only wore that for work…"
They stook out their hand, obviously intending for Stuart to grab it so they could lead him somewhere.
"… What are you doing?… No, I'm tired. Tomorrow's Sunday, I have a show… I don't want to go anywhere right now…"
They stook out their hand again, more aggressively than before.
"No. Go away." Stuart pulled the covers over himself and turned his back to them. Soon after doing so, he heard a loud thunk centimeters away from both sides of his head. He opened his eyes to see himself between the blades of a large pair of rusty scissors.
"C-Clovis! Help!" Stuart screamed.
He didn't have to say anything: Clovis was already on top of them, throwing the bearless child across the room, landing on the generator.
She checked to see if he was alright while she had the time.
"Stuart, are you okay? Did they hurt you?"
"N-no, I'm fine."
"Alright… Stuart, sweetie, listen to me: get out of here. I'll handle them, you just run, okay? Run!"
Stuart nodded, quickly gaining his composure and bolting for the door as he ran past the child, who was still trying to get back to their feet. He threw open the door, and sprinted through the hall, only to collide with a large, haired mass. It was only in-between the time it picked him up by the neck and when it cracked it did he realize that he ran face first into the Wolf. It carried Stuart's limp body over its shoulder like a sack of flour.
By the time Clovis had subdued the child, nor Stuart or the Wolf could be found.
"I see you're alive… Pity."
Stuart heard the voice from somewhere around him, but wasn't sure of where it came from, or who it belonged to. It was a miracle he could make out the words at all.
"Then again, I suppose it's for the best. It's easier to deal with you alive and dumb than dead and… well, dead… I'm joking."
Stuart's eyes fluttered open, but his vision still swimmed. He wasn't thinking very clearly, but he could easily tell who the voice was.
"Father Morgan?" Stuart mumbled
"Well, you aren't brain-dead. That one really is a shame. See, that's probably going to make this harder on you."
"Wh-what?" Stuart asked groggily. He looked down, and saw himself stripped of his clothing and strapped to a gurney.
"Hmm… Still a little out of it… Well, I don't think you'll be much confused when it happens. You should understand it soon enough if you haven't already. Well, I'll keep this brief; I'm expected on stage soon. I wanted you to know that I knew what you were doing, and you were, at most, an annoyance. Once you're out of the way, everything will return to normal, I'll still be receiving profits, and it'll be as if you never existed. Sorry, old boy." Morgan turned and walked for the door. "Well, I'd say that just about covers it. You'll have Espen to keep you company for now. I'll be seeing you shortly."
And with that, he exited the dark, closet-like space. Stuart didn't even know that Espen was in the room until Morgan told him of their presence. "Espen?… Where are you?"
They didn't respond. They simply moved into his sight, and sat against the wall.
"… You don't have your bear, do you?"
They were silent still.
"… I guess that's a no." Stuart briefly wondered if Espen told Morgan anything about Clovis, but remembered they don't speak much without it either. It was then it came to him. "…Where's Clovis? …What did you do with her?"
There was no response.
"… She's alive. I know she's alive. She's an angel. She's my mother… She's my mother… You didn't kill her, I know you didn't."
They remained silent.
"… If you hurt her, I swear, I'll… I'll kill you…" His threats were pointless, and Stuart knew this very well. He knew what Espen did to him before his capture, but he found it difficult to truly blame them. Without that bear, they were mearly an extension of Morgan. They are currently a tool, if anything. It wasn't them that attacked Clovis, it was Morgan.Soon after Stuart spoke, Espen approached. Despite Stuart's protests, they fastened a large metal brace to his head, and tightened it so he couldn't turn his neck. It was then Stuart realized why he had been restrained like he was.Espen hauled Stuart out of the room, the outside light blinding his eyes. The child pushed Stuart's gurney down the hall and through the large doors of Morgan's chapel. All Stuart could hear when he entered the chapel was the sound of the organ, filling the room with hymns. As Stuart was moved down the aisles, the church-goers all shifted their gaze directly toward his, many recognizing him from his performance at the First Hound. Morgan stood front and center behind the podium and in a butchers smock, looking as enthusiastic as Stuart had ever seen him.
"Today, we have a very serious case," he began. "Today, a boy you all might recognize, Mr. Stuart Hayward, has been showing a very dark side of himself as of late. Ever since the child arrived to Haven Harbor, it was very clear that there was quite the devil inside him. In fact, he has even been accused of selling his own eternal soul to one!"
The crowd gasped, utterly rapt in the preacher's laundry list of accusations. "No! I did no such thing!" Stuart responded.
"Hush child!" The pastor continued, prying Stuart's left eye open. "Your pain will be over soon… Today, we're going to see if we can't revoke their little pact. We shall erase the Devil's hold on this poor boy, and he will know true happiness on this earth, and the next! Can I get a hallelujah!?"
The crowd celebrated, praising the preacher's actions. Stuart futilely pulled at his restraints, unable to delay or provide any hindrance to what was set for him. Morgan placed his hand on the boy's forehead, raised his pick, and preached to the crowd before him.
"Then it shall be, in the name of our Lord and Master, our King who made the great fire and oversaw the creation of our world, our universe, and ourselves! I. CLEANSE. YO-"
Stuart's vision went to dark red. He felt a heavy blunt force collide with head, and a sharp pain across his eye. As his mind began to shut itself down, the last things he could remember were frightened screams, and the lick of nearby flames.
Time seemed to slip by quickly for Stuart. The day or two after things went black seemed like mere seconds, but the last few hours before he woke felt like days. He caught brief glimpses of the room around him, and dark figures walking around him. His surroundings seemed very unfamiliar to him, but it at least didn't appear to be Haven. He began to stir, and saw a large, burly figure facing away from him.
The figure turned around. "Stuart? Oh, don't get up, don't get up. It's me, Dr. Unsworth. You're safe, just lie down. You need to rest."
"U-Unsworth?… A-am I back home?"
"Ha. You haven't stopped calling this town home… Good… You're in my office now, don't worry about anything. Do you feel alright? Any blurred vision or headaches? Places that feel burned?"
"… I feel like the dead."
"You've suffered a moderate concussion, some second-to-third degree burns around the torso and left arm and leg, and a deep cut along the left side of your face. You should be back on your feet eventually, but I'm not convinced you'll come out if this without scarring. More importantly, are you… Thinking clearly? Everything okay?"
"I… I don't know."
"Clovis told me of the procedures up there. I didn't see any scarring in your eye socket, but it helps to be sure…"
"Clovis… Where is she?"
"She… left you a note. I want you to rest for now, though. You've been out for a good while."
"I want to read it."
"Why would she leave a note instead of just telling me herself? I want to read it… Please."
"Fine, alright… I'll read it to you. Just… Lie down for me."
"Alright… Thank you."
Unsworth nodded and reached for the note on Stuart's bed stand, carefully removing the seal and clearing his throat beforehand. He began.
When you read this, I will be gone. I have trusted your care to Dr. Unsworth, who has agreed to take custody of you until you're of age to make your own in this world. You won't be in any danger with him. You will be safe. I promise.
I'll try to leave you with as few questions as I can. It's the least I can do.
The reason I have left is because I need to aid the Wolf. I wish I can tell you their name, their identity, but… that's something I am bound not to say. I can tell you they were not in Haven Harbor willfully. I can tell you that I am their daughter, and I can tell you that they were not what you encountered below. That was the Wolf in the same way that Morgan's slave, Espen, was not the child. I set them free.
There is a reunion coming, a day where our crafts will meld with theirs, and I am still not sure whether that day will be one of celebration, or of Armageddon. They still need my help for it, and so long as I'm alongside the Wolf, I can try and prevent the latter. I hope you understand.
I don't know how much you remember of last night. I followed you when you were abducted, but you were under heavy guard. I couldn't get to you without making myself known, so… I did. I threw one of the lit ceiling lights at Morgan, square in the face… Unfortunately, it hit you as well, and Morgan succeeded in harming you… I'm sorry. If it's any consolation, at least he missed your eye…
Everyone saw me by then, so I played the monster and howled at everyone to run. Most did, but a few stayed trying to fight me off. No one got hurt too badly, don't worry about that. Most of them were focusing on prayer, so I only had to throw them out the doors.
They were all too willing when the Wolf entered. Apparently, Morgan's terms were rendered null when the attendees saw a devil trespass on their holy ground. As I understand, since the terms were based off of Morgan's success, and there was no way Morgan could have recovered from what I did, the Wolf let themself loose, and set fire to the chapel… Which you were caught up in.
The Church of Haven lies in ashes now. Do not worry, no one was hurt. Almost everyone made it out of … All but one. Morgan belongs to the Wolf now. I want you to know that this was planned, and I'm sad to say that this was just a start. You needed to come into being securely, the wolf needed to come into being properly, I needed you to know how to perform, and just… so, so many other things. You wanted a life of your own, and by interfering as I have, I have denied that from you. I am sorry.
I love you so, so much. Please, never forget that. I swear, I will see you again, I promise you. I hope when we see each other again, we'll never have to leave again.
I love you,
P.S: I left something for you. Much of Acacia's work is gone now, but I've been saving a few pieces of my own. I want you to have this one, if you would like it. Acacia made this before you were even an infant. Dr. Unsworth knows where it is. You were such an adorable little thing… I love you.
The doctor sighed as he finished. "… Do you need some time?"
Stuart lied in his bed, staring in space. It took him a moment to reply. "I… Yes, I do… Thank you."
"Alright. Would you like me to get anything for you?"
"I… could I have some water?"
"Of course… Clovis mentioned one of Acacia's drawings…?"
"I'd like that too, if it's alright."
"Of course," the doctor said before quietly stepping out of the room. Stuart sank deeper into his bed, his eyes beginning to water. Within a minute later, the doctor came in, and silently laid a glass of water on his nightstand, and propped up Clovis's gift up so Stuart could see. "Is there anything else?" the doctor asked.
"No… I'm fine. Thanks for everything…"
"Don't mention it… Try to get some rest, Stuart."
Unsworth left with a nod, leaving the child to himself. Stuart turned his head to see what Clovis left behind for him. He stared at it for what seemed like an eternity, trying not to cry. He thought he preferred his solitude before, the quiet, but now… he felt truly alone, his chest feeling as if it were crushed.
"I love you too, Mom… I love you too."
Written by MsFantem