Nightfall in Brahmir: Bloodfall
Chapter One: Fox & Lamb
Part Two, Chapter Four: Shadows Rising: The Congregation
Eva shivered, despite the warmth of the sun crashing down upon them. Veinar’s rousing speech inspired the youths, though they weren’t really youthful, and though each of them knew better. Still, Tink and the others came up with a plan alongside the hunter. A plan Eva helped curate to, what she hoped, would be a passable course of action.
There were far too many fronts for them to assault unanimously. Between the Congregation, the broken Seals and the missing Archbishop if they focused their efforts on any one of those fronts, they would lose control of the others. Not to mention the failing Mana Wards all across the city. She shivered, considering what might be happening in the other parts of Brahmir.
Their plan broke them into three parties, splitting their efficiency but allowing them to focus on their own goal. Eva and the Bellringers would go back through Whitewall and, if necessary, to High-rise, to quell the congregation and turn them away from danger.
Veinar and Ella took the task of finding and executing the remaining seals, Sorvane already accounted for. It only left a handful that she knew of, and likely would result in their deaths. Despite being told this, the hunter grinned.
Olem and Orri took the mantle of crossing the city and spreading the word to bar the gates, and sealing the citizens within with her magic. As Veinar said, no matter how much Eva wanted to disagree. Their plan trapped all of them within the gates because there was no way they could know who else to trust, not even each other, really.
The others shared a look, knowing there might not be a chance for them to reunite again.
“If anything goes wrong,” Ella pushed her cloak back, revealing a small flare gun, part of the Lamplighter’s standard issue, but rarely used. “Fire this, whoever sees it, if you can, get to them as fast as possible.”
The group nodded, and she dropped her head.
“Good luck, everyone.”
The words were surreal coming from her lips. Years as a Lamplighter had prepared her for the possibility that awful things could happen, in fact, it was a certainty. It was the nature of her job. As if she were an artist fighting starvation, she was driven by the knowledge that eventually, despair would be the only reason left for her to fight.
She had never imagined it on such a massive scale.
Ella and Veinar took off into the alley behind them, not wasting a moment of their hunt. Orri and Olem were slower to leave. Their initial steps uncertain, but when they’d checked their bags and verified the Bellringers, and Eva would be alright alone, they left. Even against the odds pushed upon them, they were still parents looking out for their young.
As the second pair crawled down the side street toward Whitewall Gate, Tink paced, her wooden soles popping against the stone road.
“What should we do?”
Eva glanced up road to see, still crammed along the access path of the North gate, hundreds of civilians shoving past one another, crowded in a squirming mass. The boils that pock marked their flesh swelled since last she’d seen them, some of the wounds grew heavy and weighed down their bodies, forcing them to drag limb along the ground with hunched shoulders and crooked hips.
Tink stood beside her, watching in a distant way, as if her mind were elsewhere, seeing something beyond them, beyond the curling crimson clouds that formed above them, beyond the swarm of mortals who gathered in fear, or perhaps excitement, of their developing pox.
“So, what can we do?” Tink asked, returned suddenly from her mind’s journey.
“Anything we can, I suppose. We should start by getting them out of Whitewall. Away from the Fleawild.”
Tink nodded. “Ideas?”
“Next to setting them on fire and standing at the other end of them like cattle, no.”
The kid giggled. “I don’t think Orri would necessarily be disappointed.”
Eva lowered her head and let a smile break across her cheeks.
“No, I don’t think she would.” She pushed a short breath from her lungs. “So, let’s move. Once we’re inside, we get them back to Flourmill, then further, get them somewhere safe. Somewhere the Fleawild won’t bother them, somewhere they won’t get attacked by things in the night.”
Tink nodded, Lionus beside her.
“We could push them into the square, and than guard them, maybe keep some of the spirits at bay. Assuming they aren’t violent.”
She watched one, stumbling forward into a pair before him, that stumbled into a pair before them.
“I don’t think we will need to worry about their acts of aggression, at least… not yet.”
She summoned her rapier into her hand and shook it gently, just for a moment to feel its weight formed in the palm of her hand. Tink and Lionus shared a look with the rest of the Bellringers,
Whitewall had become crowded with people, the sparse and infrequently maintained cobblestone walkways had been, in a matter of minutes, overrun by the boil-ridden, moaning bodies wandering the alleys, mumbling words without syllable or meaning. Their sounds little more than uncomfortable grunts against the otherwise silent night. They squeezed past one another, as if they didn’t recognize the space around themselves, as if nothing mattered to them but the destination.
Whatever the destination was, Eva couldn’t tell.
They meandered this way and that, crossing paths and tripping one another only for those who fell to stand again and continue moving as if nothing had occurred.
“They are altogether mindless.” Tink murmured in awe of the scene, two men shambled toward them, but not really toward them. They were merely walking the path they had been pointed.
Eva studied their faces. Their skin wrinkled and puffed beneath the swarming spores, it had been too little time for the Fleawild to take root, but if it did, they wouldn’t be able to remove the congregation from the Whitewall without risking exposure to everyone in the city.
As she stood, watching the pair of men and thinking of their next move, it clicked.
“They aren’t doing anything because they don’t need to.” She whispered. “They are being infected by spores, look at them.” She gestured to the crowd, Tink and Lionus followed her finger with their eyes as she pointed out groups of people standing in circles, mimicking the act of conversation but without moving their lips.
All of them, hung their mouths wide open.
She adjusted her own scarf, tightening it around her cheeks and mouth, fearing she would soon become like they had.
“No, I still have my thoughts.” She told herself, lowering her hand as one of the congregation passed by her, its scent terrible against the distant aroma of pine, coming from the incense burners lit along the few still inhabited buildings. From one of them called a woman.
“What is going on?” She whimpered, looking back to her daughter who laid on her thatch bed, coughing.
“It is dangerous, right now. You have to stay there.”
“I know what is happening. I want to help you, I do, but there is little I can truly do.”
The woman put her hand to her mouth as tears fell from her eyes.
“Neither do we, I’m afraid.”
Tink slipped an oil soaked torch from her pack and lit it with a steel match, slipping the match back into her pocket once the flame caught. She lifted the torch into the morning air and waved it around, but the crowd didn’t seem to mind. Any who saw the flame continued to stare as if it were nothing, their bodies swelling further as Fleawild spores entered through the cracks in their skin and beneath their eyes.
“What is going on?” Lionus quipped, looking around at the show of swelling people. “It’s like they are gaining wait at a remarkable speed.
Eva stared into the crowd, begging for answers she didn’t know how to get.
“Help me.” She whispered a prayer, she didn’t care who heard it between Illunier, Vyse or any of the other three. As long as it was heard. She held her rapier, watching as the shambling mass of corpses who hadn’t yet died made their way slowly to her.
“Are you sure about that?”
A sing song voice echoed from within the house where the woman was.
Eva turned to find her face, pressed against the cracked window and dripping blood.
She scowled as she noticed, behind the woman’s cold body stood the cloaked, ghost-masked killer. The Seal, Linde.
“How dare you.” Eva responded, gesturing to the Bellringers to move forward with the plan. “She did nothing, she meant nothing to you, she was only hoping to survive.”
“Shame, really. I hoped she’d scream.” Linde released her grip on the woman’s corpse, seeing her falling to the ground with a hollow thud. “If she screamed, I was hoping you’d jump a little.”
Beneath the mask, Eva could see that crooked smile. Barely peeking from behind the clay, but it was there, taking pleasure in the discord she chose to sow across the city.
“You belong at the Academy, what brings you so far?” Eva raised the rapier and took a step to the side, moving for the entryway.
“I’m under new management.” She cackled, raising her thin hunting knife before her and pinching the blade between gloved fingers before she slipped it through and wiped the collected blood into her hands. “Have a big project underway and they needed the best of the best.”
Eva laughed. “Why didn’t they call Sinder, then?”
Her opponent scowled from behind the mask, lowering her face. Her response came in a low growl as she stepped out into the street.
“They did. I’m sure he’s making fine work of your little commander.”
Her heart skipped a beat.
“She’s killed him before.” Eva lunged forward with her rapier, aiming for Linde’s chest. She caught robes which tore and singed beneath the radiating heat of the weapon.
Linde spun, bringing her own knife down fast, slicing into Eva’s arm.
She jumped back a moment too late as the steel knife carved through her flesh sending blood pouring from the wound.
Behind her, Tink muttered something, drawing from the Powers.
A burst of energy shot from the girl’s body and crashed into Linde, sending the Geist rocketing backward.
“We don’t have time to deal with you.” She called. Lionus at her side, his palms clasped together.
“I don’t think that’s fair.” Linde cocked her head and wiped blood from the knife between her forefingers, like she always had.
“Fair isn’t in the cards for you today.”
Lionus spoke from the Powers, following Tink’s lead as another blast of force emanated from his body, sending her crashing into the churning crowd as they moved, slowly and patiently through the streets. Linde swung violently, slicing into their flesh, thrashing to get out of the tangle of bodies but they didn’t seem to care, and continued moving despite the cuts, dragging her along with them.
“We need to see where they are going.” Lionus whispered, watching the cloaked figure drowning beneath the wave of white robes.
The procession moved southward through Whitewall, toward the District square.
Eva moved, following them along the city through a side street, watching out for Linde to resurface somewhere new as she tore a strip of cloth from her cloak and wrapped it around her arm. She cinched the makeshift bandage tight, in hopes she could prevent the Fleawild from crawling into her through the wound, and pressed on.
As they moved, they realized to what extent the crowd gathered. Through the market block and out the other side, all the way to the gate, hundreds of parishioners of the Breaking Sun, a number of whom Eva had attended services with herself, moved.
As they neared the center of the district, she noticed a faint sound coming from the distance.
It sounded like… singing.
Tink, the smallest in stature of the group, split from their party and scurried down a side alley, climbing atop shacks until she reached the roof of a nearby house, to peer down into the square.
“Eva…” She paused. “I think you should see this.”
The Lamplighter veered, following Tink’s footsteps as she too climbed atop the house, hoisting herself over the edge of the roof to find the city square alight with glowing spirits. Thirteen of them, in fact.
In the center of the ring of phantoms stood a small group. One massive patchwork man held a long wooden pole with the symbol of the Breaking Sun affixed to the end, a burning star surrounded by five moons which had been carved out of wood and nailed together. Around him, stood Jona Amgrange alongside a blonde teenager, whose hair had been caked with blood.
“Liona and Croom.” She mumbled. The three of them flanked a figure she immediately recognized.
Draped in crimson robes, accented with whites and golds and wearing a crown of twisted flesh growing from the adolescent Fleacaps atop his head, stood Archbishop Dhurri, his eyes weeping blood.
Eva leapt from the house and sprinted, no longer concerned with laying low. Between Linde, Croom and Liona, as well as the newly discovered Chorus of Orda, she didn’t have time to think through her plan. All she knew was that she needed to get to Dhurri and she needed to do it quickly.
The Bellringers followed her lead, keeping pace with her as they raced through the back alleys, following the congregation as they marched toward their hallowed leader.
Before long, Eva burst from the shadows of an alley and emerged in the town square, the sight of any of the Sealed being out in the daylight shocked her still, she’d only known Linde in the sunlit hours. To see Croom not bearing down against the torch bearing arms of furious townspeople felt surreal. She wasn’t alive when he’d been created, but upon his first breath the town awoke with something different.
Croom was the first of the Sealed, perhaps besides the Witch of Blythe Woods and the Dancer With No Name, both of whom had existed for longer than anyone could recount. There were perhaps others who roamed the night beyond the knowledge of the Lamplighters, but Eva didn’t have time to think about it.
Liona was the first to notice her, the young girl, barely younger than Tink appeared turned to face her, grinning as she raised a hand and swung it carelessly.
Six of the townsfolk turned, their actions controlled by the girl, and ran toward Eva and her companions. The first, a large man whose cloak barely fit him, swung his empty fist at her. She ducked and caught his arm, swinging up and catching him in the jaw, sending him stumbling backward as the remaining five ran past her, tingling with the Bellringers. The youths knew how to handle themselves, and quickly dispatched the remaining patrons with strikes to their necks and shoulders.
Eva moved toward Dhurri, who stood with his eyes closed, the crown atop his head pulsated, alive independently of him. Threads of sinewy mold stretched from the crown down into the rolls around the base of his neck. The crown twisted, covered in bulging, flesh like polyps that split down the center and revealed glowing red eyes that all turned their attention on her.
“Lamplighter Adept, Evangeline Price.” Dhurri’s voice came from unmoving lips. “You have come to see the dawning of a new world with me?”
She summoned her rapier as a black shadow dashed through the moving crowd which had arrived in the town center. The thirteen phantoms of Orda did not stop singing.
“I came to stop this, or stop you. Whatever puts an end to this.”
Dhurri laughed, remaining perfectly still, staring toward the sunrise.
“You cannot stop nature, my dear.”
She pushed upon the Power inside of her, urging it to grow.
Her rapier shed more golden flakes of light in response, warming in her hand.
“This is not nature.”
“Is it not?” The eyes blinked out of sync with one another. “We lived long before your kind. You are a product of our creation. You exist because we desired something to hunt.”
The Bellringers took formation behind her, arcing out, prepared for defense as the congregation filled the town center.
“You don’t belong in our world.” She planted her feet and stared at the man she’d admired, the man who had plucked her from the streets after the death of her mother. The man who’d helped her and comforted her when Linde arrived, spawned from the depths of Brahmir to torment her for a pain she did not deserve.
“I am your world.” The voice of Dhurri shouted, the blinking eyes of the crown squinted in unison as the square filled with congregants. From the depths of their cloaks each of them withdrew a golden candelabra affixed with a knife blade at one end.
“Here, you will see the fruition of our people. We will take back that which you have stolen, that which never belonged to you.”
Dhurri raised his hand, an a sudden look of fear crossed his face. From his own lips he screamed.
The sound echoed atop the dilapidated houses of Whitewall, the broken fountains and crumbling wells resounded to the call of the Archbishop, and then, Tink gasped behind her.
Before them, The Congregation of the Breaking Sun wrapped their hands around the candelabras and shoved them into themselves. Blood burst from their sudden wounds and poured onto the ground.
Eva whipped around to see what Tink had seen as the Fleawild which rooted itself into the very foundations of the neighborhoods began to move. The black and brown colonies of growing mold writed against the stones and beams where it had rooted for decades.
All at once the nations of mold and spores tore themselves from their nests, writhing out of the foundation of Whitewall, peeling from the paint and proving it had done nothing to stop the will of the infectious Fleawild.
With each pop from between the stones, the buildings crumbled upon themselves, no longer standing upon the colony of mold that had been keeping them together for so long.
Buildings tumbled and huts shattered as the Fleawild congealed into a swirling tide that crawled all at once across the city standing ten feet above Eva’s head, and crashed into the congregation.
The tide of spores intermingling with the Congregation rang like a million crawling legs as they swarmed and filled the open wounds of the denizens who had gathered, and all at once, they fell until only one was left standing.
A woman, cloaked in the same white robes with a thick mask covering her face. Age had been kinder to her than most, with gentle wrinkles peeking from the depths of the mask and kind crow’s feet stretching from the edges of her eyes.
In one smooth motion, she tore the cloak from her body and cast it aside, revealing a suit with hundreds of tiny vials attached to long cloth straps. Each of the vials was filled with a swirling, blueish pink fluid.
“Ward vials…” Eva thought, astounded as the woman unclipped the bands and threw them into the sky. A mechanism attached to the straps triggered, a short beep followed by a series of pops in rapid succession as the vials burst and showered the people with the ether that filled the Mana Wards.
“If you’re going to do something, do it now!” Came the voice of the woman, deep and worn with time and understanding. She ducked out of the way and sprinted toward the center of the square. A mechanism on her arm engaged, swirling a hinged brace swung withdrawing a silver knife hidden in the brace that snapped into place beneath her wrist.
Dr. Lachmann surged forward with fury in her steps, charging the Archbishop as the dust from the ether vials settled around them.
Eva didn’t wait, and launched herself forward only to be jerked back, the force of her cloak snapping back to her throat sent a shock through her. She turned back to find that Linde had crept up on them and had sunken her knife into a wooden beam of a fencepost, one of the few not torn from the earth by the surging of the Fleawild.
“Love you didn’t think it would be so easy, did you?”
The cloaked horror crouched upon a porch, her masked face cocked as if in confusion.
“Go.” Eva commanded the Bellringers, who charged forward to meet Lachmann in the square as she unbuttoned her cloak and dropped it to the ground.
“I have business to finish, once and for all.”
Before her, Linde cackled.
The Bellringers and Lachmann met in the square, their assault of the Archbishop no longer Eva’s concern. Booming pressure emanated from the Bellringers, accentuated by the sound of Lachmann’s knife ringing against metal and stone. She gripped the rapier in her hand and approached the masked predator, her greatest nightmare.
“Oh, is it time?” Linde asked, hopping from the porch and stretching her legs.
“It was time years ago, I was just forbidden.”
Eva launched herself forward, another jab.
Linde ducked beneath it and ripped her knife from the wood, slashing into Eva’s leg.
Pain screamed through her as she released the form of the rapier and resummoned it to her hand, backwards. She jammed the point down and caught Linde’s forearm. The haunt dragged her body through the glowing light. The scent of burning flesh rose between them.
Another jolt of pain from her calf as Linde slashed a second time, catching her off guard.
Eva stomped, slamming Linde’s arm into the stone street.
Linde grunted and clawed at Eva, who let go of the rapier and let the dispersing light wash over Linde’s body as she reached down, gripping the mask.
“Are you sure this is what you want?” The woman reached up, wrapping her hand around Eva’s and gripped tight.
“More than anything.” She paused.
Archbishop Dhurri, and Archbishop Emerius before him, spoke about the nature of fear. The threat so prominent through Brahmir. They told her in her training to become a Lamplighter, that fear was what prevented them from ascending. Fear was the nail driven in to each of them that kept them locked in the endless cycle of death that they had so easily become accustomed to. Their fear was, for all of their talk, the root of the gnarled tree that hung so many of her loved ones. Her father, afraid of Linde, afraid of himself and his cacophony of disappointments. The Bellringers were afraid of their power and what it threatened to bring down upon them. She was afraid that she would die by the hands of the masked woman who had tormented her over and over again, for years. Despite the Sealing, despite the work she had made within herself to become strong, to overcome her fear.
She still felt it.
Trembling, Eva pulled back the mask and revealed the face which had been hidden beneath since she was young.
Whatever fear there was inside of her, it paled in comparison to the duty with which she was put upon.
She tossed the mask to the side and looked upon the face of her tormentor, and her heart ached to meet the eyes of her own mother.
“I thought you were sure.” Linde replied, grinning with broken, yellow teeth.
Eva raised her hand behind her and called upon the Powers as the tears welled.
Linde’s graying, worn face told stories of her past, her life alongside her husband, the dear man who couldn’t bear the death of his wife, killed at the hands of a stranger. The sunken scar above her right eye came from a game of catch with Eva, when she was barely old enough to lift the ball. It was a rare spring storm and she’d lost her balance and fallen, slicing open her forehead on an exposed nail jutting from the siding of their house.
In Linde’s eyes, she could still see the face of the woman who sang her to bed every night. The woman who promised her a life filled with love, caring and kindness. The woman who died when she was still a little girl.
In her hand came the answer to Eva’s call. A dazzling golden spear, shaped like one she’d loved in the stories her mother used to tell her. She closed her eyes, tears streaming from them as she slammed the spear into Linde’s chest, the woman who was her mother no more.
Eva held her concentration, the golden spear would vanish if she didn’t focus, if she didn’t keep it there with her in the real world. It would be gone, but she needed to rally, to aid her companions.
She turned to face the center of the square, where the sounds of fighting had slowed.
Her eyes fell upon her companions, their bodies strewn about the center of Whitewall, limbs broken and blood leaking from their mouths as Dhurri remained untouched, his crown of flesh watching Dr. Lachmann withdraw her blade from the neck of Croom, her own creation.
Off to the side, Liona laid in tatters, unsure of whose blood now covered the girl, all that remained were the Chorus, Dhurri, Lachmann and Eva before the Congregation covered in glittering ether dust.
“It is a shame,” Dhurri’s voice began. “That we have come to this, that you have worked so hard for this victory and it will slip from your cumbersome, devout fingers.”
On the other side of him, Dr. Lachmann reached into her waistcoat and revealed a pistol.
“I haven’t been devout a day in my life.”
The flash from the barrel illuminated the bright square, casting flame from the end as Dhurri fell to the ground, a hole in the side of his head.
Eva ran, and knelt beside Tink, who blinked weakly.
“Tink we can fix this.” She felt her grip on the Powers weakening, behind her the spear began to dissolve.
The Bellringer looked up and smiled, her muscles weak but her conviction strong as ever.
“There is nothing to fix, Eva. We have won.”
The tears returned with force as Tink laid back, and blinked no longer.
Lachman approached the Archbishop and tore the crown from his head, throwing it upon the wooden stake affixed to the center of Whitehall, traditionally used to burn those who had succumbed to the Fleawild in a ritual they had called “purification” but was a thinly veiled excuse to burn those they once loved at the stake.
Lachmann spun the barrel on her pistol and pulled the lever back a second time, aiming it at the crown. This time, a burst of flame ejected from the barrel and ignited the flesh.
Its eyes looked around frantically, for someone to save them, but only found the cold face of the doctor looking back at them.
As the fire blazed on the pyre, Eva stood and glanced back at the body of Linde behind her, still trapped within a desintigrating spear of light, her mother’s eyes watching them, whatever shine they once contained long gone.
Around them, the thirteen spirits faded into the daylight and Dr. Lachmann holstered her gun.
“It is over, child.” She reached a hand down and helped Eva to her feet.
“Is it? How can you be sure?”
Lachman smirked, nodding back at the eyes, bubbling and popping in their sockets.
“It’s either over now, or it will be over one day. That’s how it is for all of us.” She glanced back with sorrow at Croom, who laid lifelessly on the stone, his chest unmoving.
Eva wiped her own tears away and turned back to the congregation, the bodies piled along the road sixty feet or more away from the district square and allowed herself to release her grip on the spear and let it go, to let her mother go.
Lachmann checked Dhurri for a pulse quickly before she moved to the Bellringers, one by one, who had sacrificed themselves for the betterment of Brahmir, and came back with no good news.
Even if they had won, it didn’t feel to Eva like a victory. It felt like the beginning of something much worse.
Then, thunder rumbled above them as the sky grew dark in moments, the faint cloud cover had grown thick and from behind it, the always blue and hopeful sky began to shift to deep crimson and from deep within it, a seam began to emerge that opened and revealed a massive, watching red eye.
She realized, that she was right.
It was no victory all, but the beginning of the end.
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.