Tag Archives: dark fantasy

Smoke Priest

This entry is part 9 of 9 in the series Market of the Macabre

The smoke merchants pace along the streets of the Market. The cowls of their grey cloaks are pulled up over their heads, obscuring their features. Everyone who comes to the Market maintains a level of anonymity, but the smoke merchants even more so. The product in which they deal is not well known and almost certainly not welcome. Few even know of their existence.

They approach a nondescript tent along a side avenue. It could be any tent housing any vendor, but this one is different. It is the permanent dwelling of their employer, and they enter without so much as announcing their presence.

Inside, the space is lit by candles. Books and scrolls sit on shelves that line the perimeter of the room. A tall man, robed in white, stands at the center, hands clasped behind his back.

“You have it?” he asks the merchants.

“Yes, Holiness,” says one. He reaches into his cloak and produces the box.

“The sigil?” asks the priest.

“We have that, too.”

“I will take them now,” says the priest and extends a gnarled hand.

Frost

This entry is part 8 of 9 in the series Market of the Macabre

He resists the voices, even as they wrap around him. He fights but is soon overwhelmed. There are simply too many of them. He feels them clawing at his mind, dragging at his psyche, pulling him down into unknown depths — and suddenly he is very afraid.

His head tilts forward, and streamers of smoke pour from his nostrils, black as soot, back into the red box. They carry with them a single wisp of white smoke, a wisp that appears to undulate away for just a moment. But more black fingers of smoke wrap around it, pulling it in, holding it tight, and soon all the smoke is once again contained within the box.

His body falls limp, coated in frost, half draped across the table. His eyes are empty white orbs, colorless and dead.

Two figures stand at the door to the room. One goes to the table and replaces the lid to the box, which closes with a quiet click. The other fishes the obscene coin from the dead man’s pocket.

The two men exchange a glance, and the smoke merchants leave without ever saying a word.

Memories Even of Memories

This entry is part 7 of 9 in the series Market of the Macabre

He dips his finger into the smoke, and it clings to his flesh like tar, even as tatters billow up and swirl around his hand. He lifts his hand to his face once more, inhaling the smoke in one long stream. He leans back, head tilted upward, euphoria making every nerve ending in his body pulse with pleasure.

Memories pour through his mind, memories of a place long ago and far away, memories of a place that no longer exists and hasn’t for aeons. He sees himself in a splendid city of crystalline jewels, flooded with thousands of others like him. He watches as he traverses a forest, both living and dead, both here and not, as he seeks out a treasure he can no longer remember. He feels his boots crunch on ice and snow, feels the breath of a blizzard on his skin — and he shivers in response.

But amid these memories he senses something else, something… unexpected. He senses life. And suddenly there are voices in his head, all speaking to him at once.

You have found us!
Welcome home!
We have missed you!

Smoke

This entry is part 6 of 9 in the series Market of the Macabre

He licks his lips in anticipation, ignoring the searing pain of his torn tongue and the coppery taste of blood in his mouth. Carefully he reaches forward with both hands and takes hold of the box, gripping the top four corners between his thumbs and forefingers. He pauses, careful not to jostle the box and risk losing any of the precious contents inside.

Then, gently, delicately, he lifts the lid from the box, slowly flipping it over and setting it to the side, revealing the prize he has waited for so long.

Inside a grey cloud of smoke boils restlessly. The smoke is dense, heavier than the air around it. Very little of it escapes the box. Here and there white streamers rise to the surface then sink back into the depths. An occasional wisp rises into the air, and he reaches out, gently coiling the wisp around a finger.

He leans in, inhaling the wisp as it unwinds from his hand like a serpent — and he smiles a feverish, toothy grin. His eyes dilate into black holes of emptiness, and he begins to laugh.

Blood and Runes

This entry is part 5 of 9 in the series Market of the Macabre

He wastes no time. Already the moonlight has crept across the box, and if he misses this opportunity, it will be weeks before another presents itself.

He slips his tongue between his teeth — and bites down, hard, severing the flesh. He takes the torn tip of his tongue between his fingers, even as his mouth fills with blood. He turns his head to the side and spits, a misty spray of blood and saliva.

Then he leans forward, the moonlight washing over him, and licks the top of the box. He takes his time, caressing the box with his tongue with a movement that is almost sensual. The blood from his mouth fills the depressions in the wood, up to the brim and then some, so that each appears as a black bead of fluid in the moonlight. The box itself drinks up the remaining blood, so that when he is done and straightens again, the box appears to have been set with dark, glistening glass jewels.

It is enough. With a click a seam appears around the perimeter of the box, and wisps of vapor seep through the gap.

Moonlight

This entry is part 4 of 9 in the series Market of the Macabre

It is night now, and moonlight pours through the one open window in the room. The moon outside is full, the light it casts bright and rich. Almost the moonbeam reaches the table. Almost it reaches the box. The moment he has been waiting for has very nearly arrived.

He continues to hold station against the wall. His body is sore from remaining motionless for so many hours, but he barely notices. His focus is single-minded, his muscles taut with anticipation. The moon continues its descent, the beam of light it casts now touching the table surface and beginning to inch toward the red box positioned at its center.

Yeeeesssssss, he thinks to himself and releases a held breath.

Finally, the light slips over and around the box, and the surface of the box changes with the light. A series of geometric depressions sink into the wood, each separate from the others but seen together forming a rune-like shape.

He moves instantly. The moment he has been waiting for has arrived, and it will pass far too quickly.

Smoke Merchants

This entry is part 2 of 9 in the series Market of the Macabre

He winds his way through the chaos, trying to avoid bumping into anyone. Such a thing is nigh impossible here. But it hardly bothers him. Here, anonymity is paramount.

Finally, he reaches a dark corner where two grey men sit. He sits across from them, aware of the open room at his back. An acceptable risk.

“You have it?” he asks the men. They exchange nervous glances.

“ID,” one says, voice tense.

“Of course,” he replies and produces an odd coin from a pocket. It is large, embossed with an image so profane the two merchants visibly flinch. It is enough. One of the grey men reaches down and produces a small, red box. He handles it gingerly, sliding it across the table.

“You know what this contains,” the merchant says.

“Of course.” At last! His eyes are captivated by the box, riveted by his prize. Without looking up, he says, “You may go.” The merchants are gone in an instant.

“I have you now,” he says and grins. He lifts the box near his face, inhaling deeply. He can almost smell the smoke inside.

Fiction: Shade

Night clings to the forest like a shroud. The darkness is nearly absolute, the silhouettes of the trees only just a hair’s-breadth deeper black.

The sounds of life are everywhere, however. The chirps of insects and the calls of nocturnal predators. The sounds of movement originating from creatures perfectly adapted to life in the black.

Distantly, a light blooms, but grows slowly larger, nearer. It floats above the ground, weaving among the trees, despite its obvious ethereal form. It is a shade, the spectral afterimage of a sentient lifeform not-so-recently departed. The shade is oblivious to its surroundings, of course. Its meanderings are more reflex than the result of any conscious action.

As the shade drifts by one particularly large oak, its glow momentarily illuminates a small, bulbous husk. There’s just time to see a seam in the husk pucker before the shade glides by, returning the husk to darkness.

But then, a low, sustained intake of breath arrests the shade’s forward movement for just a second — and then it begins to drift backward. The husk comes into the light once more as the shade is pulled closer. The husk’s steady inhalation intensifies, halting the shade’s movement altogether. Streamers of ethereal matter pull away from the shade, spiraling downward to the husk, where the seam has parted just enough to engulf the streamers, trapping them inside.

The shade’s form begins to stretch and distend as the husk draws it in. Bit by bit the shade is pulled into the husk, until finally, nothing remains. The forest is plunged into full night once more.

Then, the sounds of the forest grow quiet and still. They are replaced by the sound of the husk, slowly chewing.

Confession

She is tied to a rack. The ropes at her wrists and ankles dig cruelly into her skin. Her fingers and toes have long since gone numb. She barely notices. This is as it should be.

Figures move in the shadows around her, checking her bonds, adjusting her garments, preparing her. Somewhere in the darkness beyond, she hears the sound of the bloodman’s knife on the sharpening stone. She relaxes into it.

“When I was nine, I stole two rolls from the bread lady. Times were hard, and we were hungry.”

The words tumble freely from her lips. She is not ashamed of her sins, does not fear her penance.

She holds nothing back.

“Two years ago, I spoke false words against a friend. She died. I did not.”

“Once I kicked a dog. It had done nothing to deserve it, but I was angry.”

She has found the rhythm of confession. One sin to six strokes of the bloodman’s knife on the stone. Her sins are many, and so the confession lasts for hours. This penance will be harder than most. She may not survive it. But she *will* welcome it.

These are the first words I’ve written and published — in any form — in months. As per my usual style, the content is somewhat dark (and so my wife will undoubtedly hate it), but not so much because it’s a reflection of my current state of mind (though it certainly could be, given my present state of affairs). Rather, the image of a woman giving confession while a priest — of sorts — prepares to offer her penance with his blade is the first that sprang to mind when I saw the video below some weeks ago.

My usual practice with micro-fiction of this type is to take that initial impression and follow it until space (1024 characters) runs out. This story, as it happens, uses every bit of that space, and so is shorter than I’d like. I was forced to cut details that would have fleshed out the scene and circumstances of this young woman’s confession, details that I think likely would have enriched the nature of her situation and added depth to her choice to give confession.

I don’t have it in me to feel bad about shortchanging my character this way, however, what with this being my first foray back into writing in quite some time. It’s also possible — nay, certain — that I borrowed no small amount of inspiration from this story that appeared on Tor last month. In any event the ideas are so entwined in my own mind that I see no reason to flesh this particular idea out any further. It’s enough for me right now that I’m back writing again.

Golem

This entry is part 1 of 3 in the series Golem

Rain lashed down on that ravaged plain in furious sheets. The broken earth drank it up through ragged cracks that went down forever.

At the center of the plain, a gaping maw of a hole sucked down water in great, sodden gulps. Perversely, gouts of flame licked up out of it, unnaturally green and purple. A lone figure stood at the edge of the pit, unaware or uncaring of the tremendous heat. Its lips moved, inaudible over the combined roar of rain and fire.

Smoke and steam heaved from the pit, and up rose a great clay monstrosity, towering dozens of feet over the figure below.

“What would have of me, my master?” it bellowed. The figure looked up at the beast, allowing her hood to fall back. Her features were fine and fair, hair so blonde as to be almost white.

Her voice was cold as ice. “Your time of sleep has come to an end, my dear. I have need of a titan.”

The golem pulled its massive bulk out of the pit. “Then let us be on our way,” it replied. It scooped its master up and lumbered out over the plain.

[Originally posted at Ficly.]

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