Shadows Rising: Puzzle Box

Nightfall in Brahmir: Shadows Rising

Chapter Three – Puzzle Box


Part Two, Chapter Two: Shadows Rising: Charnel Bells


Moonside wouldn’t have been described as the most lavish District in Ammon’s Reach, but for a previously homeless girl who fought to survive in the Fleawild infested streets of Whitewall, it was a blessed sanctuary.

Kiira hadn’t been in Moonside for long, not officially, at least. Her uncle and aunt requested she spend some time at Tatyuve’s Mercy being sanitized of potential infection. The Fleawild spores were a rampant threat in Whitewall, but she’d never heard a story of them spreading elsewhere. Still, she obeyed. She’d been on the streets for six months after her father’s death at the hands of the mold. When news reached her extended family, they did what they could to get her out of the district. 

Her new home in Moonside was lavish by comparison. Previously she’d nearly single handedly cared for a one story shack, barely hanging onto its own walls with the help of the inches thick coats of white paint. In such a state of disrepair that Fleawild colonies had begun to grow in the very walls. Though she’d been dealing with the infestation for years, her father who was already somewhat ill succumbed to their influence after he’d tried to help her clean a particularly vile breakthrough in their kitchen.

Her Aunt and Uncle, however, lived in a tall two story home with ample room and more than one bedroom. She’d not considered the possibility of having a room to herself, so when her uncle escorted her from the hospital to the new house, she was understandably ecstatic. She’d spent the first two days in the bedroom by herself, not really doing anything besides enjoying the spacious area and remembering her father.

Uncle Dart and Aunt Jinny kept a tidy house and made it a point to let her know she was under no obligation to aid with the cleaning. They paid a worker girl to take care of such menial tasks for them. The house was more comfortable than any she’d known, but the most impressive aspect of the place was that it stayed warm, all the time.

With the recent end to winter, she had been used to wrapping herself tightly in wool blankets dipped in oils to kill off any spores which might have taken roost within the fibers. In the new house she barely needed to wear her cloak, except for the nights Aunt Jinny left the front door open for potential guests to enter.

Another dangerous practice to hold in Whitehall completely eliminated by a simple barrier wall. The Fleawild were not like the spirits or the haunts of Ammon’s Reach. They obeyed no such laws denying them access to a home. They came and went as they pleased and without mercy they consumed. 

Still, as wonderful as the new house was with the ever hospitable Dart Garren, it was not without its peculiarities.

Chiefly among them was her Uncle’s collection of strange devices and artifacts which he kept locked in his study at all times, with Kiira expressly forbidden from entering. Of course, he had never been a father and did not realize the strict expression of forbiddance only swelled her desire to steal away into the room and see what it contained.

It was this exact feeling which led her to nick one of Aunt Jinny’s many hairpins during one of their frequent nights out, despite the constant warnings against it. The couple spent much of their time outside of the house, and little time within. Kiira didn’t need anyones help taking care of herself, having been considered an adult legally for two years since her father’s passing, she preferred the alone time.

With a quick pinch of the hairpin between the lock, the handle popped and released its tension, allowing her to enter the only room kept secret from her. Within, she saw Uncle Dart’s grant collection of things she did not, and perhaps could not, make heads or tails of.

Sitting within glass display cases all over the room were pieces of a unique variety, in one locked case nearby the door rested a rusted iron machete, draped with seaweed that had long dried and glued itself to the side of the blade and all along the handle. The edge of the blade had been chipped severely, as if it had been used not for cutting vines but for breaking down wood. It could have, however, been chipped from butchering animals.

She’d heard that bone was tough enough to do such to a weapon. 

Beside the machete was a small ball of twisted, gnarled vines. The case containing it was also locked, and she noticed immediately none of the items had placards to offer any sort of information about them. Considering no one but Uncle Dart and Aunt Jinny were allowed into the room, she supposed there was no need for such a thing.

She still wished there had been something, however.

The rest of the well maintained room had displays of similar items, a softball with shards of glass stuck through it. A small sliver of orange wood which looked to have come from a door, or perhaps a piece of bark from a tree she’d never seen before.

One glass case contained what appeared to be a children’s story book. The cover was painted black and depicted a man in a wide brimmed hat with long, thin fingers. It appeared to have been damaged, parts of it charred and other parts warped with water damage, she passed by it with little ceremony.

Among all of the cases, there was only one which was empty. Around it, shelves hung which were absent of cases entirely, likely spots for future trinkets to display. The only empty case contained a velvet pat with two spherical indentations within it which looked to have held spheres a bit bigger than her hands. Beside that case, however, she saw a box.

Inside a case with no lock, there rested a beautifully crafted golden box. Strange lines and divots covered the face of the intricate metalwork, and it was clear that the box itself was more than meets the eye. On the side that faced her, there was a small hole barely rounder than a half point. She assumed that, given the chance, she could slip one of the copper coins right into the opening.

She noticed immediately that the case contained no lock, and the temptation to pop it open and play with the box was stronger than she’d admit, even to herself. She refrained, however, on the slim chance that Uncle Dart took meticulous notes about his prize room and would know if something had been moved.

She parsed through the other pieces of his eclectic inventory, satisfied in the knowing of what was beyond the locked door before she stepped out and with the hairpin, locked the room back up.

Her family would be home sooner rather than later, and to be caught inside the room would likely subject her to some form of punishment, although, she couldn’t conceive a punishment worse than the death of her father and the removal from her childhood home, no matter how infested with mites it was.

Kiira took herself to the den where a fire burned still, and plucked a book from one of the many bookshelves which decorated the room. She took to the sofa and kicked her feet up on the gilded willow table and dove into a story, a tale about a girl in the mountains who found a dragon.

A draft whipped through the house after a time, and she realized the front door had been left open. With a roll of her eyes, she bookmarked her place in the book and went to close it. AS soon as her hand touched the door, a figure stepped from the side of the balcony. It was a child, crying profusely with blood on his hands.

“Help me, miss. My dog was attacked.” He wept, looking down at his hands as he spoke. “Could I come in and wash up?”

She paused, watching the boy.

“What’s your dog’s name?”

He answered without missing a beat. “It was Felix, we were out for a walk and something grabbed him and dragged him into an alley. I chased him and the thing left us alone but he’s hurt really bad.”

She looked at the boy, no older than ten and that was pushing it.

“Look at me.” She quipped, leaning against the door and chewing on her cheek.

The boy didn’t. “Ma’am you don’t understand, this is serious. We need to hurry.”

“If we need to hurry, then you don’t need to wash up. Where did he get attacked?”

The boy balled his fists, and began pacing along the porch. Behind him, she noticed the Mana Ward had burned out.

The child paced back and forth, refusing to meet her eyes.

“I’ll tell you what.” She began, “On one condition.”

The boy paused. “Will you help me?”

“Show me your eyes.” She gripped the door handle as the boy froze in place.

“Why do you want me to look?” He wiped tears away with his head still hung, as he rotated his face she caught the edge of his eye, and saw that it was entirely blacked out.

“Because I know this place, and I know what you could really be.”

He growled on the porch.

“Let me in or I’ll kill you.”

She laughed in the spirit’s face. “You can’t, because you aren’t allowed in.”

She slammed the door and locked it, leaving the child screaming and pounding on the other side.

Hours passed and in between frequent naps, she’d made it through a sizable amount of her book. The child had given up trying to threaten her some time ago, and as she considered retiring for the night, the door unlocked.

She jumped, readying the book to throw as Uncle Dart and Aunt Jinny waltzed into the home.

“Ah, Kiira!” Her Uncle threw his hands up, rosy cheeks puffed from his smile. “It’s so good to see you!”

She nodded. “You guys let your Mana Ward burn out.” She tossed the book onto the table and caught a disapproving glance from Jinny.

“We don’t have control over that, dear, it’s the Lamplighter’s job. I’m sure they’re busy. Besides, we are the last house that needs further protection thanks to your Uncle.”

Her mother pranced past, the feather boa draped around her neck and tucked beneath her cloak bounced with each step.

Dart slipped his overcoat and cloak off and hung them on the backside of the door. “What happened, dear?”

She kicked her slippers off and reclined on the sofa while Dart absently tidied up the den.

“Black Eyed Child came knocking.”

He paused. “You didn’t let him in, did you?”

“I’m not an idiot, am I?”

He chuckled to himself. “No dear, you are not. I am glad you are sensible. That could have been quite a predicament, you know.”

Her uncle plucked the book from the table and stuffed it back onto the bookshelf, leaving the bookmark where she’d placed it.

“We are awfully tired from our day, I think we will be retiring early. Is there anything we can get for you?”

She considered asking about the room once more, but let go of the urge.

“Go to sleep, I’ll be fine.”

He clapped lightly. “There is plenty of bread and jerky in the chiller, dear. If you’re hungry.” Dart stepped out of the den and made his way down the hall to meet Jinny upstairs.

“Hey, Uncle?” She called.

His footsteps halted.

“Yes, dear?” He called from the hall.

“Where do you guys go so often at night? It feels like every day you’re wandering the streets past the curfew.”

“Oh,” He tapped on the bannister with his pudgy fingers. “We were doing some business, making sure our clients are satisfied is a twenty four hour job.”

She grunted, kicking her feet back onto the sofa.

Each time she’d asked about their personal lives, she was always given a cop out. It wasn’t wrong of them to not tell her, but she would have appreciated something more… straight forward.

“That business have to do with the rumors around town?”

Dart coughed quickly. “What rumors?”

“Oh, the Lamplighters aren’t around, they’ve been neglecting their duties. When was the last time you saw one?”

Dart giggled to himself. “Dear I haven’t called upon a Lamplighter in years. We’ve not needed to. Our house is safe, if that’s what you’re worried about. Anything that tries to get in is going to be pushed back, I promise you that. Even if you had let the child in, it would have burned up as soon as it passed the threshold. You have nothing to fear from the night as long as you are under my roof.”

He began up the steps, ending their conversation.

“I’m not so worried about what’s outside the house, Uncle.” She mumbled quietly and fetched the book from the shelf once more.

Upstairs, Dart and Jinny giggled together while she continued reading, reaching the part in the story where the girl reunites with the golden dragon. Excitement built in her as she flipped each page, anticipating their reunion.

A thud came from down the hall and she snapped the book closed.

“Hello? Uncle?”She called, and no reply came.

After along moment of silence, a voice called back.

“KiIra, return to me.”

It was the voice of her father, almost.

It lacked the gruff sound of a man who smoked for forty years, or the solemn tinge of a man who lost his wife in the same week she’d given birth to their only child. It was her father in the tone and the timbre of his speech, but it was not her father, the man who lost everything he’d ever had, only to lose himself at the end.

“What are you?”

No reply came back from the hall. She set the book down, wanting to continue her journey through the story but knowing if she left the occurrence alone, it could mean worse things for the household.

“My warding is perfect. We’re going to be just fine.” She mocked Dart as she rounded the sofa and plucked an iron fire poker from the fireplace landing and approached the hall.

“Answer me.” She called again, raising the fire poker above her head and stepping into the hall.

Nothing was there, or at least, nothing that could be seen.

“I know you’re here and I know you aren’t real. You made a good mockery of my old man, but you forgot to sound like everything is crumbling around you and life isn’t worth living anymore.”

Still, it was silent.

She took a careful step into the hall and readied a swing at any moment, then another thud popped. This one from the door to her Uncle’s study.

“Dear Kiira, I miss you.”

She brandished the fire poker and approached the door with caution. 

“You can’t miss me that badly if you’re already back.”

The knob of the study turned, fighting to open. She raised the poker and swung it down hard at the space before the door and the handle immediately stopped turning.

“I can feel your desires.” It called, the voice moving upstairs.

She climbed the steps carefully, jabbing forward with the fire poker.

On the second floor landing, she saw a faint light coming from beneath the master bedroom, and the voice whispered in her ear.

“Go, and see what we might offer you.”

She crept forward with a chill growing along her spine and crouched outside of the door to listen.

Within, she heard the sound of Aunt Jinny weeping alongside the repetitive smack of something hard and wet.

Low, beneath the sounds of the tears, was Uncle Dart, who whimpered.

Summoning her courage, she turned the handle and burst into the room, prepared for the worst. What she laid her eyes upon was beyond anything she could have imagined.

The bed and end stands of the room had been shoved to the side of the room, and in the center rested a weeping visage of her Aunt Jinny, stripped of her flesh and calling out to Uncle Dart, her eyes hanging limply from her sockets as she cried out.

“Hungry, I’m so hungry!”

Kiira stared in horror as the thing that was once her aunt crawled from the pile of stripped skin and blood toward Dart, who had huddled into the corner of the room begging for his life.

She tried to move forward, to intercept what she saw before her, but her legs refused to move. In frozen disgust she watched Aunt Jinny crawl to her husband, the eclectic collector of items and the man who’d taken her in as he called for Kiira to help him, and the moving corpse of what-was-Jinny-no-more lurched forward, taking a bite out of the man’s plump leg.

Kiira screamed and ran forward, driving the iron rod into the back of the bloody mass and tearing it out, she swung a second time, and a third, as her instinct took over and maimed her own aunt while Dart wept, with each new bite, Jinny unbothered by Kiira’s assault.

After she’s stripped strands of meat and tendon from her former aunt’s back, the mass finally turned away from Dart and lunged toward her. She jumped back and kicked it in the jaw, forgoing any notion that it was still her family, she came down hard with the fire poker, slamming it into the skull of the corpse.

A sick crunch revealed broken bone and oozing brain matter as the thing-that-would-never-be-Jinny-again slumped to the floor, shuttering.

“What happened?” She shouted at Dart, who shed tears and mumbled, patting at his evicerated leg with a bit of bedsheet.

He didn’t answer her.

“Dart! What is this?”

He shook his head. “I’ve made a terrible mistake, Kiira. I’m so sorry.”

He leaned forward, his fat body barely able to support his weight on his healthy leg as he reached across the bedroom floor.

Kiira followed his gaze across the blood stained paneling to see the cube from the unlocked box lying in a pile of Aunt Jinny’s skin.

“No!” She screamed, dashing to the cube and plucking it from the ground before Dart could get his hands on it. Without thinking, she cocked her arm back and threw it through the window as hard as she could.

Shattered glass rained down as the metal box slammed into the window pane and fell out of the house, somewhere in the darkness below.

“Kiira!” Dart shouted. “What have you done?”

Behind them, Jinny’s body began to moan.

Kiira leaned out the window, shouting for help as Jinny rose once more, her body warped and twisted from the dented and shattered bone.

Uncle Dart cowered against the nightstand, reaching for something to defend himself as Jinny whipped around and stood, much faster than she had before.

The corpse charged at Kiira, who ducked, shielding herself with the fire poker and anticipated the blood mess to crash into her and make a meal out of her like it had Uncle Dart, but instead, it leapt out the window and crashed against the ground with a sick slosh.

Dart shivered in place, peeking over the bedsheet he’d harnessed to cover himself, and as soon as Jinny was gone, he dropped it and began to sob.

Kiira found her feet beneath her and stood, the sudden rush of adrenaline threatened to send her back to the floor, and she braced herself of the jagged window, cutting the tip of her index finger as she did so.

“We need to get you to the hospital, Dart.”

She stumbled to her portly uncle’s side and helped him to his feet. The man who had, only hours before, been the picture of regality had devolved into a blubbering, bloody mess.

He didn’t reprimand her again for her choice to get the box out of the house. He didn’t say much of anything at all as she helped him downstairs and out their front door, fire poker in hand, on the way to Tatyuve’s Mercy.

The trip to the hospital was devoid of interference, which, given the circumstances didn’t fill Kiira with hope. They broke through the front doors as a nurse approached them, calling for aid. They took Dart from her and got him into an observation room before anyone returned to question her about what happened. The nurse who did was a few years her senior and approached with wide eyes, like she’d never seen someone’s leg turned into ground beef before.

“Dear, can you tell me what happened out here?” She took a seat beside Kiira.

“I can tell you, but I don’t know details. My aunt and uncle were upstairs, I heard them crying and then I walked in to find this bloody… thing, that used to be my aunt, chewing on my uncles leg.” She sighed. “I don’t know where my aunt went, or if that even was my aunt. She’s just gone.”

The nurse nodded. “Do you have any information we could tell the Agency, or the Lamplighters?”

“There are Lamplighters around?” She laughed and stretched out in her chair. “I figured they’d given up, I haven’t seen one in months.”

From behind a curtain, a woman approached with a long barreled rifle dangling off her back. The gun had been recently polished and mounted around her neck by a long strap. It looked to have been cared for deeply. The woman who wielded it, not so much.

Medium length dusty blonde curls bounced with each step around her grime covered face, she did not wear the classic adornment of the Lamplighters. Instead of the dusty white cloak and tunic set, embroidered with silver thread, she wore a cut off short shirt and an open cloak with baggy trousers which had numerous pockets sewn into the sides, many of which appeared to be filled with something.

“Not all of them have given up.” She leaned against the far wall and grinned. From behind her stepped a child, twelve years at the oldest, who did wear the traditional garb of the Lamplighters, though it was not a new uniform. It had been well used and repaired.

“Kiira, this is Ella Risom, an ex-Lamplighter who has been offering her services to us for the last few months.”

Kiira stared at the muscular woman in awe.

“I didn’t know anyone could leave the Lamplighters.”

Ella chuckled. “When you give up on Vyse, evidently, the church gives up on you.” She patted the girl’s head and knelt, whispering to her.

The nurse put her hand on Kiira’s leg. “Ella is just as talented as any fully fledged Lamplighter, in fact she might be more capable than many of them. She returned a little over a decade ago from a job with a child whom she has raised.”

Kiira watched the kid run down the hall of the hospital and disappear into a a room. Ella marched across and took a seat on the table immediately before Kiira.

“Lamplighter or not, I’m your ally. Can you tell me what happened to your family?”

Kiira regurgitated the events as accurately as possible, including the box in her description and Ella nodded, listening intently for the duration.

“I understand.” The woman nodded and slipped a hand rolled cigarette from one of her many pockets. She snapped her fingers and produced a flame at the tip of her hand. “I’ll tell you what,” She took a long drag from the cigarette as the nurse stepped away. “You can come stay with my girls for a bit, relax, get your head on straight. Ammon’s Reach has been getting worse and I don’t want to scare you, but I’m not going to pretend it’s okay either. Whatever happened shouldn’t have happened. That old man in there, Dart Garren? Might be your uncle, he’s also one of the most talented folks in the area. His house has been warded for as long as I’ve been in service and it’s been warded well enough that the Lamplighters haven’t had to refill his Wards in ten years. Maybe more.”

Kiira cocked an eyebrow. “Then what happened tonight? If nothing could get in, why am I here?”

Ella blew a column of smoke from her lungs and smacked her lips. “It means one of two things, either your old man invited something in, or, the far worse scenario, his magic isn’t working. That means the stuff out there that wants to kill us, is getting stronger.”

Kiira shivered thinking of the Black Eyed Child.

“So, what then?”

The ex-Lamplighter stood from the table and flicked the spent cigarette to the floor, stomping on it.

“Then you come stay with us for a day or two, we get the Garren House refilled and you can go back. Then you can figure it out from there.” The woman gestured for her to get up and follow, and she obliged.

Ella led her to the back of the hospital, through a pair of large double doors and down another long hallway before she finally came to a stop at a small metal door, painted with symbols.

“Through here, there’s others that needed a place to sleep. Take whatever time you need, I’m going to go do some investigating for that little trinket you mentioned. No matter what you hear, don’t leave this room.”

Kiira nodded and stepped through the door, not bothering to argue with a woman who brandished a loaded weapon in a hospital.

On the other side of the door, she found herself in a cramped den, which looked to have previously been a wing of the hospital and was repurposed with ramshackle walls and draped linen bedsheets for privacy. Inside she saw a collection of people scattered amongst the room, a few of them dressed in Lamplighter garb, but the rest in street clothes. 

One of the Lamplighter dressed girls approached.

“Hey there, I’m Nona.” She extended her hand, which Kiira took.

“Kiira…” She paused to think. “Garren? I guess?” It would be no use to use her birth name, no one here would know who she or her father were.

“Nice to meet you. What brings you here?”

“Uh,” Kiira stepped into the room and moved through the crowded jungle gym of sofas and shelves to the other side, Nona in tow. “My uncle got chewed up by something. Ella told me I could rest here for a while.”

The woman nodded and pointed to a nearby room with a sink and toilet inside. 

“That’s the bathroom, one of them, there are others. On the other side is the kitchen.” She gestured to a room where a young man chopped up a bundle of carrots. 

“So, what is this place?”

She looked back at the packed room with twenty or more people of varied ages reading books, playing cards or smoking.

“It’s a safe haven for people in transit. A few of us are permanent residents, myself and Harden.” She gestured at another woman in lamplighter gear, also much older than she was. “There are more but they’re off taking care of some things.”

Kiira nodded and found a seat away from as many as she could be, and plopped onto the chair. Nona still followed her.

“Is there anything we can get you?”

She shrugged. “A nap?”

The Lamplighter giggled. “Of course, please let me know if there is something I can do for you while you stay.”

“Can do.” Kiira tucked her legs to her chest and nestled into the chair, closing her eyes to sleep.

Her sleep was fitful and short, but it was sleep regardless. Between the dull drone of voices and the occasional clatter of dishes in the kitchen she didn’t get the rest she’d hoped, but she’d been going on months without a full night’s sleep so when her body refused to let her rest again, she decided to unfurl herself and stretch her legs.

Since she’d laid down, most of the others in the room had gone elsewhere, whether to dinner or to bed she didn’t know, but judging by the sunroof tucked in the corner of the room, it was nearly morning.

As she wandered around the vacant space, she couldn’t find Nona anywhere, which was a small blessing. 

Scattered around the room were a handful of scrolls and books which she began rooting through, hoping against hope to find another copy of the story she’d been reading in her Uncle’s den. As she peered through shelves and tables, Ella knocked and then immediately opened the door.

“Kiira?” She called before being her standing in front of a double bookshelf with a mound of books in her hand.

“We’re ready to take you back to the Garren House, if you’re ready. Dart still needs some time to recover, so you’ll be on your own. You okay with that?”

She laughed to herself, setting the books back on the shelf. “I don’t mind.”

She followed Ella out of the room and through the hospital until they left through the front door. As soon as it closed behind them, Ella leaned down.

“I want you to take this.” She slipped Kiira a small knife with a glass blade. “Protect it and keep it close. If anything comes for you, you use it.”

She nodded, tucking the knife into her belt.

The pair made their way through the early morning fog and back to the Garren House where Kiira noticed immediately the Mana Wards had been refilled. As she made her way to the front door, Ella stopped her.

“Hey, if you get into trouble, call me.” She placed a small sending sphere into her hand and wrapped her fingers around it. “I mean it. I’ll be there.”

Kiira nodded.

“It’s hard, losing a parent.” Ella continued. “Not much better to lose an aunt.”

Ella turned and made her way back to the hospital as Kiira stepped into the empty house. The aroma of sage and juniper hung thick in the air everywhere. She stepped into the den and picked up the book, opening it to where she left of and laid down to continue.

As she read the passages about the reuniting of the main character and her dragon companion, the excitement she’d felt before was vacant. Her mind wandered through the pages, tugging her to the study.

Despite her attempts to silence the curiosity, she eventually gave in and closed the book.

She made quick work of the lock and slipped into the study again, searching through the cases and the drawers beneath them. She couldn’t find anything pertaining to the night of Jinny’s transformation, but plenty on the other pieces. The machete belonged to the mother of Sorvane, a manifestation of hatred who supposedly haunts Diamond Vale. The children’s book was a cursed object, she read, that when opened revealed to the entity attached to it the deepest desires of the reader. It would then manifest in physical form, and once opened, the book would always return to its owner.

She passed through a few more of the cases, reading about strange rocks that fell from the sky and caused outbreaks of disease, a drop of blood within a vial that moved as if of its own accord, a small chestnut case filled with fangs, pulled from the mouths of vampires.

Then, she turned the corner to the aisle where the box was and found it still sitting safely within. She slid the drawers out and checked for writings from her Uncle but found none.

As she stared at the box, a feeling swelled within her. The more she looked at it, the more she realized it looked like one of the wooden puzzle boxes her father had frequently gotten for her, and perhaps in memoriam of her old man, or because she had nothing better to do, she popped open the case and slipped the box from its silk resting place.

She carried it with her, pushing on sides and fiddling with what she quickly learned were complicated mechanisms. Pushing on one side would shift pieces all over, revealing makeshift levers and buttons and the longer she tinkered with the device the deeper her yearning for her father became.

On the sofa beside her book, she spun the cube in her hands and pressed buttons, absently reminiscing of the long nights she’d been with her father, how he used to read her books just like the one on the table. They were all the same, those adventure novels.

They told stories about a hero and a villain and even when things were at their bleakest, the hero always won. Before she’d put the book down, she read that the golden dragon was dead, and the hero, the girl who’d only learned about dragons at the beginning of the story was filled with anger at the realization. 

She didn’t need to finish the book to know what came next, the heroine would take the fight to the parties who killed her friend and would conquer them, and in a last minute twist, the book would end with the realization that death is not the end as the golden dragon returned from the grave in what looked like a miracle, but she wasn’t living in one of those adventure books.

Death was the end. At least, the end of anything that mattered.

She flipped a switch on the box and as if acting of it’s own accord, gears spun within and rotated as it changed into a new configuration, transforming from a cube into an oblong trapezoid with a new series of buttons and switches organized in patterns around a smaller hole.

She continued working as the memories of her father flashed through her mind like a series of paintings. Absently, she placed her thumb over the hole and reached her finger around to reach a switch on the back of the puzzle. 

She paused as tears welled in her eyes, remembering her father’s face the day he developed the sickness. She came home from a run to the shops and he pranced downstairs dancing and singing, proclaiming that since he was in good health he was going to help her with the chores.

He dragged out a bucket filled with scented water and dropped a washcloth in and took it to the walls. The weak, Fleawild ridden boards crumbled under the pressure and the spores crawled out from within the siding of the house. They covered his hands and crawled to his mouth in moments and he fell back, screaming.

She tried to clean him up, but it was no use. Even though she thought she had burned them all off, they’d gotten inside. Enough of them to grow. A few days later she’d gone out to the shops again and returned to find him blooming, lying on his bed with mushrooms sprouting from his mouth and pores, breathing in the very spores he ejected.

She screamed and ran, knocking a can of oil down as she left and setting the house ablaze. The last thing she saw was her father stand, mushrooms nestled in the crooks of his arms, bursting from the skin of his face and the space beneath his eyes as he went to chase her, no longer himself.

She flipped the switch on the back of the puzzle and felt a sharp pin jab her thumb. She dropped the box and whipped her hand back, slinging the drops of blood onto the cream sofa and checked it, cursing under her breath.

“What kind of puzzle hurts you when you finish it?” She mumbled through her tears, and curled up on the edge fo the couch to continue to cry.

Below her, the puzzle once more changed shape. Folds of metal snapped and twisted, reforming around itself until it became a small ring, lined with sharp needles.

The curiosity welled up within her once more, but could not overcome the dread as she wrapped her arms around her knees and wept for her father.

She remained like that for a while, before a crackle emerged in the dead air of the empty house. She shot up from the couch, prepared to tackle whatever else had come for her, and turned to face the hall leading to her fathers study where she saw someone approach.

Their skin was grey and smooth, not a blemish upon it. They were dressed in shiny, polished black leather and covered head to toe in belts and buckles. The figure seemed to float from the depths of the study out into the hall, and as it moved into the light of the house, she saw its face.

Greyish blue skin, with slices taken out of it, deep cuts that formed a near perfect grid across it, at the cross section of each of the cuts rested a long steel nail, shiny and embedded into its head.

She took a step back, watching it come toward her until it paused in the door frame. The thing stood tall, no expression on its face, and remained where it had stopped as if it was waiting for something.

She stared at it, the deep red grooves from the cuts stark against the grey skin and the well of black within its eyes. From behind it crawled another with the same tone of skin, moving on all fours and sliced to ribbons, its skin peeled back and nailed to its neck, its chest muscles completely exposed to their air as dried blood flaked from the body of the creature to the floor. It’s hands were long, with three fingers. The third and fourth had been sliced off and nailed to it’s forehead, and they curled as if still under the control of the thing.

From the study, a third emerged, who looked the most human, its eyes also voids of black, shining with a pair of white pupils within each and the skin of its face peeled back to reveal musculature and bone of its chittering jaw.

Around it’s throat it wore a steel collar with screws tightened, but only enough to pierce the skin and no further.

Kiira sobbed and backed up to the front door before she screamed, reaching for the handle.

As she fumbled with the door, she watched the deadbolt snap closed. She unlocked it, only for it to snap closed again. Behind her the three things remained where the first had stopped as they watched her struggle.

Eventually, the first to emerge spoke.

“You called us, and we have arrived.”

After a minute or two, she turned back to them, screaming through her tears.

“What do you want?”

The first who emerged snapped their fingers and for a moment, the world around her vanished into a black smoke, leaving only her and the creature, behind it a massive black structure that stretched high into a storming sky.

“Save your tears, Kiira. It is a waste of delectable suffering.”


Mean for the Holidays is an annual writing project where I post new writing every day for the 13 days leading up to Christmas, this year the theme is “The Night Alone” — Telling you stories about things that go bump in the night. Thank you so much for reading and I hope you come back to see how this story ends. If you enjoyed it, I’d be honored if you sent this to a friend.

Nightfall in Brahmir is an episodic fantasy fiction story taking place in the world of Brahmir, where the lines between dead and alive are not simply blurred, they are almost nonexistent. In this place, all manner of horrors plague the denizens from returned corpses, trickster spirits, to killers stalking the daylight. Part One will be four Chapters, each of which follow one of the main characters as they try to work out what happened to Mayeli, and rescue her from the grasp of the strange powers that be within the merchant city, Ammon’s Reach.


One Reply to “Shadows Rising: Puzzle Box”

  1. […] Chapter Two, Part Three: Shadows Rising: Puzzle Box […]

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