Nightfall in Brahmir:
Woven as Burlap
The value of a truly memorable engagement ring is not embedded in the amount of gold it is worth, or the cut of the gem. It is rather in the manner by which it was chosen. The exchange of coins for a gold band means little when the jewelry received is not chosen with care.
When Reyny laid her eyes on the ring offered to her, it was certainly beautiful. With many glimmering diamonds inlaid along the band, encircling a singular clouded ruby, the offering was a sight to behold. She did not dissuade herself from the upwelling tinge of excitement as her eyes danced along the shining gemstones, but it was not her.
She’d never imagined herself in a place in life in which she would turn down an engagement, much less so to the man she loved, but as her beau descended to one knee her denial of his proposal emerged, already prepared in her mind. Sometimes, as sorrowful as it was, love was not enough.
She gazed down upon her partner, the elven man she’d known since her early years at Barrenthal who, in no uncertain terms, made himself embarrassingly available for her during the formative weeks of their relationship. Delicate blue tattoos decorated his face, a tradition from the tribe which he hailed. His gentle smile echoed his desire to supply her with extravagance.
The ring itself was miraculous. A beauty crafted with meticulous care and precision, the likes of which she’d not seen from any jeweler in the city. Still, it was not what she wanted. Her dissatisfaction stemmed less from the object itself and more from the manner in which it must have been obtained. Aegin was not a wealthy man.
The son of a cobbler who aspired to lofty dreams, among the city council took to Barrenthal academy to hone his magical prowess, at the whim of his father, who wished he were able to more finely shape the bonded leather and steel of his workshop.
The boy had other plans, and even as Reyny was swept up by his charm and enraptured by the care he took to see her happy, she learned his ambitions were further than he was capable of reaching.
She looked over the ring, sparkling against the firelight in Aegin’s brother’s cabin. Freshly home from a wedding in which, Aegin had made the foolish decision to prepare her for the proposal while in the midst of a speech to celebrate the bride and groom.
The day was ultimately marred by Aegin’s impromptu declaration of love. Had he stopped before the brandy caught his tongue they would have returned to the cabin and he could have proposed in the manner by which they found themselves currently. Yet, if things had gone his way, Reyny would not have noticed the deep fissures which ran through her lover’s every action.
Aegin, more than anything, sought to put himself on display. To be known as romantic by Reyny was not enough. He demanded the host of guests there to celebrate the bride and his brother know that he too, was profoundly in love. He cradled similar notion with everything he’d done. She’d not noticed it, not consciously at least, until he began rambling about their relationship.
Not to be associated with such a profoundly oblivious happening of disrespect, she exited the ballroom with an apology to the newlyweds before she returned to the cabin, late in the evening and alone, against the orders of the Breaking Sun.
She stared down at the man who, two short years prior she believed would have been fit to share his life with her, and yet, as her mind flooded with recollection of his actions she realized he loved one thing far more than her loved her: attention.
“I’m sorry, Aegin. I can’t.” Tears welled and burst, rushing down her cheek as Aegin’s face turned from pensive excitement to confusion, and then frustration. She turned before he could open his mouth in protest, unable to face him, and swept herself away into one of many guest rooms.
She slipped out of the evening gown he’d rented for her, another glittering display of their supposed wealth which, when she’d donned earlier in the day was a thoughtful gift to her. Only later, did she realize it was a tactic to upstage the bride. Another thing she made a note to apologize for.
She found a set of night clothes and donned them, sliding into the bed, careful not to stain the sheets with her tears as she curled up. Despite Aegin’s motivation, she believed he meant well.
Meaning well however, was not enough when intention and introspection were divided.
“She said no?”
Aegin’s mind whirled as he knelt in the center of the cabin atop an award-winning bear skin rug. Hewn from a grizzly who’d wandered from its cave on a foggy, dangerous morning. He fell to a seat, the ring heavier in his hand than it had been moments before.
“What did I do?”
He stared down at the piece of jewelry. It was, of course, immodest. The number of gemstones alone would have sent an uncountable number of women into a tizzy of jealousy, wishing their husbands had gotten them that ring instead.
The ring then, couldn’t have been the issue. It was something else. He recollected the events leading up to his stark rejection and as he moved through the evening one moment at a time, he relived scenes he’d assumed would have earmarked the most wonderful night of his life.
Their first dance together, in fine clothing the likes of which neither of them could have afforded in their day-to-day lives. Reyny’s dress cost him a small fortune, and it was merely a rental piece. Inlaid with gemstones from the glittering caves to the north of Ammon’s Reach, sewn with Battshi Fabrics and enchanted even.
He gnashed his teeth as he thought of his partner, only hours before, twirling around the ballroom in her dress. Glittering, the center of attention. Behind, of course, the bride. His brother’s wife was beautiful in her own way but expressed a far more stately quality to her appearance.
He took his gaze outward from his mind and to the piece of jewelry in his hand as he sprawled on the cabin floor. The ring sparkled delicately beneath the light of the fireplace. A master craft of burnished gold and diamonds cradled carefully one single ruby which cost him twenty times what he’d offered for the dress.
He snapped the ring box closed and reclined his head onto the sofa, which had only been used a handful of times. Around him, the sounds of Blythe Woods chirped through the cracked window. Against the backdrop of singing bugs and a gentle breeze came the calls of foxes and the whistle of that which he did not want to expressly acknowledge.
“Suppose she is right,” he bemused, eyes tracing the ornamental carving which decorated the ceiling above. “Suppose it was inappropriate for her to wear the dress, and that your brother is at this moment, enjoying the night of his life with his new wife and you are lying alone, in his rental cabin on the other side of the lake while your partner weeps herself to sleep in the guest room.”
He stopped himself and stood, tucking the ring box into his pocket. “Suppose then, she will not be seeing this…” He continued mumbling to himself as he moved through the cabin, stepping quickly past the guest room where Reyny sobbed.
At the end of the hall stood the master bedroom where he had, in expectations for their night to have gone quite differently, paid a group of youths to decorate the room with flower petals. He pushed the door open and looked upon the work with a smirk on his face.
“Well done,” he softly remarked as he knelt and began the arduous work of plucking them one by one from the carpet and bed.
Whatever flowers the children found for their project had been plucked carefully, only a handful of them had been torn, he noticed as he bundled them and tossed them onto a side table at the far end of the room. He moved through the remainder of the decorations, starting with the lit candles beside a drawn bath. He pulled the plug and let the bubbly, perfumed water drain from the tub.
While the gurgle of the pipes crescendoed to the remains of his evening, he pinched out the candles one by one.
He wanted to ask Reyny what he could do to fix the night, but there was a tugging at his heart, something else which told him to let her come to him. So, he kicked his shoes from his feet and laid on the bed until sleep took him and he was granted release from the events of the stressful, unusual day.
Reyny bobbed in and out of dreams while she wept, as the slow realization overcame her that she did not want to be with the man at the other end of the cabin any longer.
It was a quiet sentiment at first, as her mind replayed the events of the day from the Bride’s reaction to the dress, followed immediately by her dance with Aegin and the whooping of the crowd, down to the speech which turned praises for the married couple into a celebration of her.
Then, unprovoked by her own wishes, she recounted other events which rummaged through her thoughts over the years, things that were out of place for the man she believed she knew.
His attention to detail was astoundingly lackluster, and as such she required two hands to count the number of anniversaries, birthdays or other celebrations he’d completely forgotten.
“But he remembered his own.”
She allowed herself to be consumed by the surging of sour memories when a knock came at the door. She paused, waiting for Aegin to make his way down the hall from the master bedroom and get the door, but he didn’t.
A second knock came and she kicked her feet from the bed and slipped into her sandals before emerging from the guest room.
The house was dark, notably, the Mana Ward stationed out front remained unlit. Her heart skipped a beat. It would be unwise to answer the door at this hour, even with a lit Mana Ward. An extinguished one meant she would likely be opening the door to something foreign, and almost certainly deadly.
She perked up onto her toes to peek through the eyehole, and spied standing on the stoop in a hazy orange lantern light a young woman. No older than twenty-five, the human girl was blonde with deep green eyes. She was dressed, strangely as it were, in fine clothing. A pink and green blouse with a gaudy floral pattern Reyny would have expected to see on her aunt or grandmother. The girl’s lower half sported a matching skirt, ornamented with hanging silver chains.
“Hello?” She spoke with a calm, polite voice.
Reyny didn’t answer.
“I’m looking for Mirime, is she home?”
The girl remained, unmoving, waiting for a reply. Reyny paused, staring.
The young woman looked up, at the peephole. Through the glass lens she peered straight into Reyny’s eyes.
Hurriedly, she lowered herself to avoid eye contact.
“Whoever is out at this hour, approaching an unlit house would certainly be dangerous.” Her mind slugged through the glasses of champagne and wine she’d enjoyed at the wedding before arriving at a response.
“You’re at the wrong house.” She called through the door.
“Oh, okay. See you later.” The young woman replied.
Reyny remained, slouched against the carved cedar door with her ear near the crack, listening for the leaving footsteps of the stranger.
They didn’t come.
With a sharp inhale she summoned a morsel of courage and returned to the peep hole, and peeked to find no one on the porch.
Double checking the locks before she left, she made her way to the kitchen where she’d dropped off her bag when they’d arrived, long before the proposal happened. She dug through its contents and retrieved a short tobacco pipe. She continued digging as Aegin emerged from down the hall.
“Did someone knock?” He leaned against the wall, rubbing sleep from his eyes.
“Some girl, she’s lost.” Reyny’s fingers wrapped around a leather envelope and she dragged it from within. Quickly opening the pouch, a frown painted her face when she realized she was out of tobacco. “Can you do me a favor?” She looked up, tossing the pouch onto the kitchen counter. He still remained in his wedding wear.
“Sure, Rey.” He rolled his eyes, undoubtedly in preparation for her to ask him to find more. She bit her tongue.
“Don’t start another fight.”
“Can you go outside and see why the Ward is extinguished? It’s off, and I think it just needs to be jostled a bit.”
Aegin gave her a frustrated nod before he made his way to the front door. She watched him pull the deadbolt as fear crept through her.
“What if she’s still out there?”
She pushed the thought away and took a seat as Aegin stepped out onto the porch and crouched in front of the Ward.
He didn’t bother closing the door, and while he tinkered with the iron shell of the large lantern Reyny watched him. His slender jaw flexed with frustration as she lit the remnants of her last and drew the tobacco into her lungs. The smell of stale smoke filled the room as Aegin peeked around the doorframe.
“I need to go check the shed for tools. I can’t get the top off.”
He wiggled the dented iron plate that kept the Ether chamber safe from tampering. Then, he was off, the non-magical lantern from the front stoop in his hands.
With the door standing wide open, she peered out into the forested drive. The familiar darkness of the forest was as familiar to her as the smell of tobacco, and though she hated to admit it, the color of the Mana Wards bothered her.
The strange pinkish-blue light that emanated across the buildings looked wrong, like it didn’t belong wherever it was. The same strange colored hue that dotted cabins all along the path, like little pox of sanctuary for the remainder of the wedding guests.
She stared into the darkness, watching it keenly as she waited for Aegir to return, his hands full with tools to continue his work on the Mana Ward, but as the seconds crept past, he didn’t come back.
Her stomach flipped as the vivid image of her partner, dripping blood from deep gashes, quickly flared in her mind. She stood, her eyes transfixed on the door as she approached it and closed it slowly.
It was unwise, to keep your door open to the darkness in Ammon’s Reach. That’s what the Breaking Sun preached, anyway.
She made sure to leave the deadbolt unlatched as she moved out of the den, looking to stretch her legs. The cabin Aegin’s brother rented was large enough for a family of eight, let alone a single couple.
The guest bedroom she’d occupied was larger, at least by two times the size of the one she’d shared with Aegin. The den which she paced in circles was an immaculately kept museum of creatures stolen from their plot before their time. On the floor rested a massive grizzly bear rug, much larger than she’d expected the creatures to be. It spanned many feet and drew immediate attention. Its mouth frozen in a fierce roar and pointed to the mantle.
Above the mantle hung three heads of Elk, each with large branching antlers which jutted obscenely from the stone wall. Variously around the room were scattered other trophies, a stuffed bobcat hung, defending the kitchen entryway. The body of an entire crocodile had been preserved in some kind of transparent paste and hung above the bay window opposite the front door.
The furniture of the house was well carved, sturdy and polished. The kind she could only hope to one day own through inheritance, or, if her life took a series of downward turns, theft.
Each of the bedrooms save for the master had been decorated similarly. Large beds occupied larger rooms with nightstands at either side. Each of the beds sat beneath a large paned window and every room contained its own closet. They’d all been decorated with the gaudy fashion of a sport hunter. As she stepped into the room across from hers, she was overwhelmed by thankfulness that she hadn’t chosen it first. The sheets draped across it’s bed were a patchwork of alligator and crocodile skin sewn into a thick woolen blanket.
She pushed the door open to the master bedroom and immediately felt a pang of guilt and frustration conglomerated into a unified twinge that coursed through her chest. On the far table, a pile of wildflower petals rested crumpled and smashed.
In the bathroom, beside a grand copper tub which undoubtedly cost more than she’d ever see in her life, rested a handful of candles which had been snuffed out. The entire room smelled of lavender and vanilla and she realized quickly, Aegin was certain of her answer to him. Before today, she would have been certain, too.
She didn’t remain in the master room for long before she spun on her heel and made her way back to the den. The pop of her sandals echoed into the cabin against the log walls and back to her as she came to an abrupt halt.
The front door was open wide. The Mana Ward remained off, and Aegin was nowhere to be seen.
“Aegin?” She called out, her voice stuck in her throat. “Aegin?” She repeated.
She took an uncertain step forward and returned to the large cushioned chair where she’d previously sat, and atop the seat laid her tobacco pouch, completely refilled.
She plucked it from the seat and spun, facing the dark porch, certain she felt prying eyes upon her back and yet, found nothing.
She closed the front door a second time, sure that she’d latched it and returned to her seat, but before she sat down she gripped the edge of the curtain and pushed it to the side, searching for the shed Aegin was supposed to have returned from.
On the other side of the window stood a tall, bulky man whose face was covered in sackcloth. Two eyeholes had been cut from the burlap and a smile was painted onto the sack with red ink.
She screamed, throwing the shade closed and ran to the master bedroom, locking the door behind her as she did so. Her tears returned immediately as she scoured the room, searching for Aegin’s bag.
“Sending spheres, where are you?” She half shouted into the room, knowing it was useless to be silent. They knew she was there.
She found the well worn leather rucksack and overturned it onto the bed. Among the collection of trinkets, his small finger length pocket knife and a small silver sphere etched with runes plopped onto the mattress. She took them into her hand and began running her fingers over the sphere, careful to only touch particular runes, she chanted under her breath.
The sphere began to glow faintly for a moment, before the light emanating from the thin cracks in its frame vanished. She cursed under her breath and slipped the sphere into her pocket.
From behind her, a finger tapped on the window repeatedly.
She whipped around to face it, holding Aegin’s knife in her trembling hand, she stared at the curtain. It was thin enough in the darkness that she could see the outline of the sack covered man’s face looking in at her as he gently, mercilessly tapped on the glass.
She screamed for help and then, as if waiting for her distress the tapping became a fist slamming against the window. Hard enough to shake it, but not enough to break.
From the other walls of the bedroom came more banging hands, dull drumming that echoed in the room as she fell, collapsing beneath the cacophony and held the knife to the window, with her back to the door.
“What do you want?!” She screamed at the man by the window, and as if to answer her, he stopped. Following his example, the banging on the walls came to a similar, abrupt halt. She stared at his figure, shillouetted on the other side of the curtains as he turned and stepped away, each movement rigid and forced. Then, from down the hall came a familiar voice.
It was Aegin, his footsteps popped against the wooden floor as he approached the bedroom door.
“Are you alone?” She called out, whipping to face the bedroom door as he caught the handle and spun it.
“Of course I’m alone, what are you talking about?”
Through her tears, she watched the handle spin uselessly. He shoved the door.
“Did you lock the door? Reyny, I’m sorry about tonight, okay?” He stopped trying the handle. A single pop echoed in the room as he slammed against the door with his fist.
“No, Aegin, it’s not that.” She couldn’t stop the sobbing. “There are people outside the house.”
He didn’t answer immediately. His footsteps moved away from the door for a moment before the sound of the lock latching sounded from the den.
“There.” He called out. “The doors are locked, can you please come out now?” He called back, his voice distant.
She gripped the knife and checked the window over her shoulder, which was still vacant.
Carefully, she turned the lock on the master bedroom door and held her breath.
Aegin turned, looking down the hall to see the door open slowly, from the other side, Reyney was crouched with a knife in her hand, pointed at the empty space before her.
“Darling,” He called. “What is going on?”
She carried his sending sphere in her other hand as she emerged from the room, frantically checking the doors in the hall as she passed them by.
“I’m not kidding, Aegin.” She whispered as she entered the den, examining the front door with care. The dim light of the newly lit Mana Ward reflected its vibrant hue into the cabin. “Someone is out there.”
He looked around the room, hardly able to understand what could have happened in the few minutes he was gone. Still, Reyny was sobbing uncontrollably as she handed him the sending sphere.
“Call your brother, or someone, or a guard, I don’t know.”
He took the sphere and spun the rotating dial on the top, ejecting an empty vial.
“We’re out of Ether.” He replied, maintaining a soft, calm tone as to prevent her from growing more upset.
She looked at the sphere and back at him, and then, curiously, to the window behind the sofa.
“Reyny, hey, calm down, tell me what’s going on.” He took her by the shoulders as he had hundreds of time before, and pulled her close.
“Goddesses how I’ve missed being able to have this.”
Her body warm around his as she wrapped herself around him. Her breathing stunted by quick gasps, but everything else was bliss.
“Rey, we don’t have enough ether for both the Ward and the sphere. We will need to choose one.” He put his free hand on her head and stroked her long, shiny black hair. It had been so long since they’d simply embraced one another, he’d almost forgotten what it was like.
“Take it out of the lamp and call for help, and then put it back.” She replied, her eyes locked on the window.
He rolled his eyes. All the work to refill the Mana Ward with scraps he had to scavenge from the shed immediately gone to waste. Suddenly the feeling of his partner’s body against his became overwhelmingly warm. She was too close, too needy, she asked for too much.
His father’s voice chimed from deep within a hidden memory, spoken to him within this very room when all he had to display were the bobcat and a solitary elk.
“Take care of your wife, Aegin, and she will take care of you. No matter what.”
He nodded. His father was, after all, always right.
He released his would have been fiancé and turned her face to his. “Stay here, I will be right back.
She half nodded, he expected, only because his hand clamped her jaw. He set the sending sphere on the den table beside them and made his way for the front door, unlocking the three locks in a single swift motion before he stepped outside.
“Why do I have to be the one to do this?” He thought as he yanked on the lid of the Mana Ward. Inside, the five slots for Ether vials which had traditionally been replenished by the Lamplighters, were nearly extinguished. Save for one, which still held a thimble’s worth of the powder he’d dredged from supplies his father kept in the shed. Old artificer’s toys, self sustaining garden equipment for “those days” when his father didn’t want to do chores. Most of them had long been siphoned of Ether, but the scraps left could afford them either light until morning or one message out to someone else.
He slid the vial with a tender hand from the depths of the containment chamber and with a thumb on the opening and gripped it tight in his palm.
As he stood to make his way back inside, something moved just out of sight, barely noticeable in the corner of his vision. He whipped to face it and saw a young woman standing at the end of the drive, dressed in an elegant pink and green blouse with a matching skirt. Her figure almost highlighted against the darkness of the night.
A beautiful, shapely young woman with long bonde hair wrapped in two tight braids draped down her chest and stopped just above her midsection. She wore a plain white mask, similar to those he’d seen at the theater.
This one in particular painted with red lipstick and blue eyeshadow, hiding the features of her face. Except for her eyes, reflected against the lantern light hanging on the doorway. The deep green of her eyes drew him in like fields of rolling grass and deep thickets of trees. She stared at him silently for a moment, their eyes making contact, his hand clamped around the Ether.
A bang from the other side of the house shocked him out of the trance, and as quickly as he blinked the beautiful blonde girl had vanished into thin air. He turned to the door and pushed his way inside to find his would have been fiancé waiting, trembling and covered in sweat. The makeup on her cheeks smeared and stained, and he closed the door behind him.
“I have it. Who should I call?” He spoke quietly as Reyny spun in place, her eyes danced from doorways to windows and back to him before she took the time to answer him.
“Your brother, maybe? He’d the closest one.”
Aegin sighed. “The same brother whose wedding night I supposedly ruined?” He asked, pouring the remaining Ether into the hole of the sending sphere.
“Now isn’t the time.” She fired back, short, angry syllables.
“It’s never the time.” He grumbled, quickly rushing his finger along the sending sphere to contact his brother, who was certain to be spending his time in a much more enjoyable fashion than Aegin ended up doing.
Above the sphere, a small projection of his brother appeared in the same pinkish-blue light cast by the Mana Wards, he was sitting shirtless atop a bed with his wife laying back on the other side, sheets covering her to her neck.
“Aegin?” He spoke through the light. “Do you have any idea the hour?”
Aegin nodded. “I know Roge, but there is a problem at dad’s old shack. I think someone is trying to break in. We don’t have Ether and need you or someone to come get us. We can’t leave. Our Ward is off.”
The visage of his brother and sister in law flickered, and then Roge replied with a groan.
“Aegin, if this is some kind of practical joke… fine. We will come get you.”
He didn’t have time to reply before the sending sphere fell dim and consumed what was left of the Ether within.
“Great,” Reyny replied. “Now go put it back in the Mana Ward and we can board up the windows.”
He shook his head, popping the lid open. “It won’t work that way, Rey.”
He should have known, she wasn’t educated. She was a historian, not one of the magus.
“That’s all of the Ether we had left.” He slipped the vial from the sphere and set it on the table, the final flickers of light dissolved from the vial alongside Reyny’s hope.
Reyny sat with her back against the wall, the ugly light of the Mana Ward absent against the darkness of the cabin.
“What can we do?” She gasped through a tightness in her chest which only grew more severe.
“We don’t have much choice in the matter.” Aegin fired back, pacing the den. “We should get into a back room in the house, find my dad’s old hunting gear and wait until sunrise. It’ll end sooner than later.
He leaned over the armchair, putting his face perilously close to the window. Reyny gripped her knees, staring past him, through the glass in anticipation to see someone appear once more.
“It’s almost to first setting. We have about six hours before sunrise.”
Her heart sank into her chest.
Aegin waved for her to stand, and she obeyed. “Dad kept his hunting gear in their bedroom, it’s probably still there somewhere.”
She struggled to her feet, her legs shaking with each step as she followed her nearly fiancé into the back of the cabin, and into the master bedroom. She sat on the bed, staring down the hall with wide eyes while he rummaged through the closet.
He tossed out old cloaks and coats, decorations which had long overgrown with cobwebs and dust that scattered across the floor. He reached further in and hefted a large wooden chest from the depths of the closet. Propping the lid open, she noticed his eyes light up at its contents.
“I knew you would have something.” He hefted a large, heavy rifle from the depths. A factory made piece of equipment which had long been outclassed by the advancement of their technology. The rifle itself was a single fire, side loading ether caster. She snapped her head to Aegin as he dug through the chest with a frantic air.
“Come on, come on.” He mumbled.
She turned back to watch the hall. The stillness of the dark room crawled across her skin like skittering Fleawild, prickling her skin with each passing second.
In the dark, cast in deep shadows against the kitchen wall, something moved.
“I’ve got it!” Aegin shouted. She nearly yelped as he whipped around, loading a pair of casings into the barrel. “It’s only two bullets, but it’ll stop them, at least.” He patted her thigh and took to his knee beside her.
She stared at the shape emerging from the kitchen, a tall, muscular man stepped into the faint lantern light, the painted smile on his mask twisted as he turned to look at her.
“This will kill them.” Aegin mumbled, stepping around the bed and sitting on the floor, out of view of the hall.
“Aegin…” She started.
“Come here, close the door and come here, when they come back if they can see us in here they are going to torment us. They won’t have to look for us.”
She tried to tell him, the words fluttered against her lips, afraid to come out as the burlap covers man slowly shook his head.
“Reyny!” Her partner shouted. “Do I have to do everything?”
He tossed the gun on to the bed and stormed to the door, kicking it closed without taking the time to check the hall.
Her blood ran cold.
“Get over here, now. We don’t have time.”
She swallowed the lump in her throat, washing the warning down with it. Aegin was frustrated, more than normal. Not as frustrated as he’d been before, though. She stepped with the softest footfalls she could muster to his other side, knowing from painful experience it wouldn’t be wise to contest him. To warn him, even, he would take as an insult. So she crouched behind the man who she would never marry as he propped himself on the straw mattress and aimed the gun at the door.
“Stay quiet.” He whispered.
She obeyed, pursing her lips against her better judgement.
The pair remained in the stillness of the room for a while, and Reyny considered shouting, screaming for help. She knew better than to do so, but a playful thought swelled within her.
“If I can distract them with him, and his two whole bullets, I could run. I could get to one of the other cabins, a safe one.”
She pushed the notion from her mind.
“He will chase me down and get us both killed in his obsession to be the hero, the center of attention.”
She shallowed her breathing and they waited still. Not so much as a footstep echoed through the cabin when, from the still quiet, a woman’s voice began singing.
It was an old song, a familiar one. A hymn to Tatyuve she’d sung every week growing up in the Moonlight District. The story of a traveller, lost from his home and blessed by the goddess to return.
Aegin twitched, staring at the door, his breath heavy and cumbersome.
Behind it, the sound of singing continued.
She shifted her gaze to the window above them, peering through it despite the icy prickling of fear that consumed her. She wouldn’t let them trick her again.
The song continued, well into the fourth stanza, retelling the night of the traveller’s return to his home and his dedication from then on to be a steward of the goddess. And just before the voice sang the final line, it came to an abrupt halt.
She snapped her eyes back to the door to see the handle rotating, and Aegin readied his rifle.
The door swung open and he fired. The flash of ether flame erupted from the barrel and for a moment everything was covered in blinding light. The recipient of the shot stumbled back and fell to the ground in the hall, and he jumped up, the rifle trained on the doorway, scorched from the fire.
When Aegin stopped at the entry to the hall, he lowered the weapon.
“No…” He whispered.
She jumped as the clattering of the rifle against the floor echoed through the cabin and Aegin fell to his knees.
“No.” He lurched forward, shoving the door with his shoulder as it sun wide and revealed on the other side, his brother Roge.
A cavernous hole bored through his side, what blood from the wound hadn’t immediately burned up in the flame leaked slowly from the man, who struggled to breathe.
“You asked for my help…” Roge whimpered as Aegin screamed, picking the rifle up once more.
Her partner stormed down the hall, screaming out with each step.
“I’m going to kill you!” He raised the rifle and aimed it, firing a second time before he stepped into the den and out of view.
The flash of ether flame illuminated the entire den, and Reyny saw, standing in the shadows, two girls who couldn’t be much older than she was, tucked in the dark corners of the kitchen.
“Where can I go?” She thought, staring down the darkness where the girls stood. A sick crunch echoed through the cabin, following the gunshot as Aegin stumbled back, the side of his head dripping with blood.
“Run!” He shouted, though, it didn’t seem as though he shouted it at her.
From the side of the den, beyond the hall, stepped the man with a burlap sack over his face. A sneering, iron axe in his hand. Reyny watched him raise it and swing down on the man only hours ago, who had proposed for them to grow old together.
Her heart twisted in a tangled contortion of relief and horror as Aegin fell to the ground, silent for the first time.
She didn’t pause to think or scream. Instead, she whipped her head to the window and jumped from the floor. She shoved as hard as she could on the worn brass latch, sending it ringing against the stopper as the window popped open, finally released from the tension of years. She climbed atop the mattress and hoisted herself through the small window, the heavy footsteps of the man rocked through the hall.
She gripped the outside of the window and shoved as hard as she could, sending her hips scraping against the edges of the small window, tearing and scratching at her as she rolled, safely, out fo the window.
She landed on the worn grass with a thud. A shock of pain erupting in her side as she looked up to see the man looming over her from the other side of the window, his burlap head cocked to one side, still smiling.
She scrambled to her feet and ran.
In the darkness, it was impossible to know where she’d been or where she could go, save for the Warded cabins down the road.
She ran through the darkness, scraping her shins on outstretched twigs with each fleeing step, away from her cabin and toward the safety of the Mana Wards’ light. She ducked beneath a low hanging branch that stretched too far from the depths of the forest and stomped into what she thought was underbrush, only to bring her foot down on a sharp broken twig.
The pointed spike plunged into the soft pad of her foot and she screamed, wrenching it back and taking an uncertain step forward. Behind her, the three figures approached steadily.
She pushed herself, despite the slick of blood pooling at her foot. The nearest lit cabin was merely a few feet away, and she dug into herself, fighting the pain of the wound with each step.
The figures came from behind her, drawing too close, too quickly. She could feel the hot breath of the man on her neck as she ducked, putting everything she could into her legs and lunged forward, launching herself into the protective light of the Mana Ward.
She rolled along the well maintained lawn and came to a stop beneath the wrought iron lantern, safe at last.
Af ew feet away, the figures stood, just outside the ring of light. They stared at her, unblinking as she fought to stand.
“I win!” She shouted, bracing herself against the lantern. “I got away!” She screamed at them, tears in her eyes as she did. “You couldn’t make it!”
She turned, keeping one eye on them as she limped to the porch, and came to a slow stop.
On the porch of the cabin, she raised her hand to pound on the door and found it already open.
She took a step forward, pushing the door open wider, to get a better look inside. As her foot pressed against the entryway floor, she felt a cold, slick wet that submerged her toes.
Lying on the floor of the entryway, was a large man with a rifle in his hand, and a gash the length of her forearm drawn deep across his chest. His blood pooled into the carpeted floor of the cabin and she realized her mistake.
Reyny turned to face the three of them, now standing at the base of the porch stairs, well within the aura of the Mana Ward.
It didn’t stop them.
Finlay and his partner, Ammatri stepped through the sunlit path into Blythe Woods, far from where the city labeled as “dangerous” as they chatted quietly.
“Do you think, in a couple years after our placement exams, that you want to be an official Lamplighter?” He asked his partner, who took an uncertain step over the remains of a rabbit on the road.
“I don’t think so. I’d rather work in the chapel. Why, do you want to be a Lamplighter?” She asked back, fiddling with the envelope in her hand.
Finlay pondered the question, he’d never really thought about it. The Lamplighters didn’t seem to do anything in Ammon’s Reach that was all to special, but they were regarded highly among the villagers. Other than filling the lamps, he couldn’t think of a single thing the Lamplighters did besides attend services and help the church activities.
“I suppose so. They have pretty coats.” He laughed.
Ahead of them some ways, a small carriage drawn by a single horse approached from around the bend. Atop the bench sat a large man, his shirt tight across his muscular chest and his face covered in scars. At either side sat two girls, both of whom he lingered on for a moment, admiring their gentle faces. The blonde, he was especially fond of. They were many years older than him and as they approached the carriage came to a slow stop.
Ammatri waved at the trio and extended her hand with a pamphlet.
“Want to help build a better Ammon’s Reach?”
The man looked at his other daughter, a brunette girl with a small cut on her cheek. He realized she looked a bit like his friend, and with a quick glance to Ammatri, then back he confirmed his suspicions.
“Do you think we could help?” The man asked who Finlay presumed were his daughters.
“I like to think we do help.” The blonde one replied, popping her lips.
“Well, if you’re interested,” Ammatri grinned at them. The man nodded and then turned back to the horse, prodding it gently to continue.
“Hey, Amma, do you have any siblings?” He asked, the question gnawing at him.
“Not that I’ve been told about.” She giggled. “Why do you ask?”
“No reason.” He sniffed.
The pair continued along the wooded path until they reached the vacation cabins, their assignment from Director Cley. They stepped up to the first house, whose Mana Ward remained lit, and knocked on the door.
After a few minutes of waiting for an answer, Finlay shrugged and made his way to the next cabin. He knocked, then waited, and when no one answered Ammatri interrupted his thoughts.
“Isn’t this a vacation destination? Like, for campers and hunters?” She led him to a third cabin, knocking on it while she waited for him.
“I think so.” He called out, catching up to her.
“Hello?” He called into the cabin, whose door was locked tight.
With no answer once more, he considered leaving and making his way back to the chapel. It wouldn’t do them much good to try and fulfill an assignment in a bunch of empty houses, there appeared, he realized, to be no one around to talk to about the Breaking Sun.
They passed down the row of houses on the left side of the road and came to a the end of the dead end, a quaint cabin with a few bedrooms. It was far larger than his own house, but was among the smallest in the neighborhood.
“Do you think we’ll ever have this kind of money? You know, to live in the woods and also have a place in the city?”
Ammatri giggled to herself, taking a step past the Mana Ward outside the house, which appeared to have been empty for quite some time.
“I just want to be happy, to live in a safe Ammon’s Reach. You know?” She gestured to the empty ether chamber and stepped up to the door at Finlay’s side.
He rapped his knuckles against the door and found, surprisingly, it was open. The wooden door creaked open at the force of his knock and he peeked in.
“Is anyone home? We’re from the Breaking Sun. We wanted to talk about building a better Ammon’s Reach with you!”
When no reply came, he shot a look at his partner.
“This is the only door that’s open, you want to see what the inside of this cabin looks like?”
She looked around the neighborhood, and upon seeing no one else in the open, she shrugged. “I guess we could.”
Finally excitedly pushed the door open. It was a rare treat for them to be invited into a house, and he wanted to take the opportunity whenever he could.
“We’re coming in!” He called, in case the homeowners were home and here hidden somewhere in the house.
He took a few steps into the entryway, and found himself in the den. Filled with mounted trophies of all kinds of animals. A few Elk hung on the mantle above the fireplace, a crocodile had been stuffed and polished and set on display near a large window. He dropped his jaw at the sheer number of stuffed trophies in the room, and as Ammatri joined him she too was shocked at the choice of decoration.
Then, Finlay’s eyes landed on the massive grizzly bear rug laid out in the center of the den, but the rug was not what drew his attention.
No, it was what stood atop the rug that he noticed. Judging by the gasp from beside him, Ammatri did as well.
Lying on the rug was a couple, around the age of the carriage man’s daughters, they were both dressed in finer clothing as if they’d just come from some kind of party. The man was bound, his blue skin plump against the rope that held him hog tied in the center of the room.
Finlay retched as soon as he saw the gash atop the man’s skull. Six inches deep, a massive rend in the man’s face exposed dried, sticky blood. Whatever was inside of his brain had spilled onto the outside and stained the fur of the grizzly bear.
Beside the man, was a woman, who was much prettier than either of the two on the carriage, who was dressed in a silk nightgown, and easy laying on her back with her hands folded over her chest. On her finger, rested a wedding ring.
“What is this?” He asked his friend.
“We should call someone…” Ammatri replied, her voice thick and slow.
“It’ll take us a day to get back to Ammon’s Reach, we should check the other houses first.”
His partner nodded and he turned his back on the pair, his stomach twisting itself into sick knots as he stepped out of the den and back to the sunlit road.
Then, he froze.
From inside the house, a woman’s voice called out to them.
“Help me.” She sputtered, coughing. “I’m alive.”
Finally whipped back to see the woman struggling to pull herself from the rug, a large gash on the back of her head.
He ran back inside to her aid, helping prop her up.
“Ammatri!” He shouted. “Help me!”
The woman lurched forward, coughing up bile as she slipped the ring from her finger and threw it across the room.
Once he’d helped her to her feet, he rushed back outside to find his friend.
On the porch, Ammatri was nowhere to be found, but in her place stood her stack of pamphlets they’d been assigned to hand out. Lying beside it, he found a burlap mask. Eye holes had been cut out, and in red paint it was decorated with a long, curving smile.
If you enjoyed today’s short story, I would love if you checked out one of my many others! Everything that takes place in Brahmir, from the main storyline to the side stories like this one is an homage to a couple of things that have been a huge influence to me, Magic: the Gathering and Horror!
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.
More from Me:
HWHH: Six – Carnation
“All war is a symptom of man’s failure as a thinking animal.” Read more
HWHH: Five – Leader
“The eyes see only what the mind is prepared to comprehend.” Read more
HWHH: Four – Sister
“After a good dinner one can forgive anybody, even one’s own relations.” Read more
HWHH: Three – Young
“Youth is happy because it has the capacity to see beauty. Anyone who keeps the ability to see beauty never grows old.” Read more
HWHH: Two – Daughters
“A mother’s love endure’s through all.” Read more
HWHH – One: Prophecy
“Man is the only creature who refuses to be what he is.” – Albert Camus Read more