Excerpt: The Demon
Here’s an excerpt from a short story I am currently shopping around. The ending has a unique twist. Hopefully you all get to see it if it gets published 🙂
We are ever by each other’s side, Searra and I and the darkness. Sometimes, so much so that it is difficult to tell one from the other.
The breeze blew softly in our faces as we approached town. The sounds of the hustle and bustle filled the air as we made our way in, part of a steady stream of people, the lights of nearby homes beckoning invitingly. We passed a few taverns, the smell of the roasters tempting us, chicken turning on spits, the fat hissing as it fell and hit the hot coals.
The last meal we had was a good eight hours ago, before we descended the mountains. The travelers we followed knew the destination well. I cursed the limp in my left leg that slowed us down. We found the town nestled comfortably underneath twin mountains, like a child safe in a mother’s bosom.
The townsfolk were making their way home from a long day of laborious work in the fields. Dinner was being served by candlelight in many of the cottages, the children smiling as their parents ladled soup into their bowls.
I walked faster, leaning heavily on my staff, ignoring my limp, my nose guiding me toward ever more wonderful smells. I noticed a good crowd had already begun to gather about one of the taverns. A sign proclaimed its name: The Alehouse.
The great oak doors swung open slowly. In the dimly lit room, people were talking animatedly, basking in the warm glow of the hearth. I motioned for my sister to follow. She nodded and followed along meekly and without a word, her long robes trailing her. I was careful to make sure we were as inconspicuous as we could be.
The smell of food, ale and smoke hung in the air. My stomach grumbled, but I forced myself to focus. Food was not the only thing on our agenda. Gathering information was also just as important.
We caught a few sidelong glances as we passed. Two wandering young girls were a rare sight, and the white cloaks of the Order even rarer. But my sister in particular, was enough to spark hours of conversation. She was strikingly beautiful, with long dark hair that tumbled past her shoulders, deep blue eyes, a dainty nose and ruby red lips. That was where she stopped being normal however. A thin, white piece of parchment was affixed to her forehead, the paper running the length of her face, fully veiling a third of it. Characters were inscribed in ink on the parchment itself, symbols of the moon god, Tsukuyomi.
I took my sister’s hand without a word, guiding her past rows of tables toward the end of the room. Searra liked windows. The Alehouse was full and it was hard to get the attention of the tavern wenches. Searra followed obediently and silently, her hands holding mine as we passed more tables. I could feel the eyes on us. I cursed a little to myself.
My eyes noticed everything, from the little pickpocket that made his way around the room, to the burly drunk that had taken up the west end of the room, his dour face staring blankly into open space, his hands stroking his cold drink, almost affectionately, as if the ale were a lover he hadn’t seen in a long time. I saw the couple in the middle having a spirited conversation. A lovers’ spat. They hid it from everyone, but I could see clearly from her reaction to him.
The rest of the room was what I expected to find: warriors, mercenaries and their ilk.
We found a table with a pair of unoccupied chairs. It was fine to share with total strangers. I pulled up a chair and sat down. Searra followed suit. No sooner had we sat down, that we were immediately accosted by one of the wenches. That must be the sign for them to get to work.
“Some ale m’lady?”
“Aye, and fresh bread and butter. What’s a’roastin’?”
The wench frowned. “She’ll be extra you know.”
The wench straightened up rightly. “Your FAMILIAR. We charge for that too. They’re just like horses.”
I smiled. “Of course.”
The wench curtsied clumsily.
“We have some delectable chicken tonight. I can get some roasted beef too, or even in a stew if you so desire. A big crowd tonight, yes.”
“The chicken would be great.” I smiled, handing the wench a couple of coins as her face lit up. She curtsied again and disappeared into the crowd.
One of the strangers at our table, an older mustached gentleman in heavy battle armor, was looking at Searra rather intently.
“So what’s her story?”
“My sister.” I replied simply.
“What brings two pretty young things like yourselves to this forsaken place? This is no land for little girls.”
“Same reason you are here. To hunt the demon down.”
At that, the crowd began to laugh boisterously.
“I think you two better run back home to mommy and daddy before someone really gets hurt. Your little costume parade fools no one.”
“There’s something off about your little sister there.” The other man at our table spoke now, a mousey gentleman clad in leather armor. His face was gnarled, like well worn leather, covered in a bearded stubble where he had haphazardly shaven the day before.
Our wench returned, carrying plates of food. Warm bread and butter, two mugs of ale and half a chicken.
“She’s just starin’ out into open space, ya know? Is she blind and mute?”
I shook my head. “Our business is our own good sir.”
“Now, now, don’t be hasty, just making friendly banter. I didn’t mean to offend the young lady.” The mousey one put up his hands.
“Still, the seal that covers her face, she’d be a lot prettier without it.”
“That’s her familiar. Ryker, you’re a goddam fool.”
Another gentleman from the nearby table had spoken. Ryker looked decidedly offended.
The man at the next table continued. “Those robes, that’s the Order of Talthys ain’t it? I thought your kind gone from Kuro. Is the Order gaining a following again?”
I cursed to myself. I wasn’t expecting someone to recognize the Order. Still, it was my one idiosyncratic vow. I would wear the robes still, no matter what.
I shook my head. “T’is as you say. We are two young girls seeking a revival of the Order.”
I took a sip of my ale. The cold brew tasted delicious after a long day of walking. I tore off a piece of the soft, warm bread, heaped a generous helping of butter onto it and took a bite.
The man at the other table shook his head. “It’s a shame. Order’s been gone nigh a hundred years. There are very few left now that know the arts.”
“What the hell’s a familiar?” Ryker wouldn’t let it go.
“See the seal covering the young lady’s face? That’s a seal of binding. It holds whatever is there bound,to obey the Sealmaster.”
“Why would you bind your own sister?”
The conversation was not going well.