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A Taper in a Rushing Wind

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It was a soft, foggy night in the Third City, and- no.

Well, it's just that- Sigh.

To get right to the point, Mr. Spices had been observing one of his colleagues very, very closely for about a week now.

There was no official conference deciding this, but rather a jumble of concerned whispers one evening - 'You watch him', '[I am far too busy with judging a new umpire this evening. You do it yourself.]', 'Nay, you knew him best before the price was paid', 'Oh, for heaven's sake, will someone just take care of the job? He mourns ruined cloth and failed projects each day and night, among other things, and the time has come for him to move on! What is keeping him this way?'

And of course, he who spoke most passionately was shoved into it. And that 'he' was Mr. Spices. Naturally. He spoke not of any duties he may have had - and truth be told, those duties were the kind that could wait - he instead held a look on his face for a moment as if he'd been dealt some sort of foul play, visibly pouted (a certain Master was enragingly amused with this), and stormed off on his heel to begin his civil duty.

"If he was to fall so uselessly into the past this way," he grumbled, frigid with resentment as he nearly glid down the stone steps of the central temple, "He could have deterred us. But nooo." Mr. Spices clutched a handful of his robe. "Had to go and make trouble for the rest of us."

A moment later he realized his own hypocrisy. Mr. Veils had been the most hesitant to hand over payment to the Priest-Kings. He trusted them the least, hated their leather smiles, cursed their glassy eyes to damnation in shrieking, sobbing wails the night before the transfer. They'd all seen it - felt it, even - that overwhelming sense that... This was wrong. This would go horrifically. But nonetheless, the rest of the Masters smiled thinly, cooed at their hysterical colleague, reassured him that everything would be just fine.

They were wrong. They lied. That was no fault of Mr. Veils', too out of his mind, too fiercely wishing that they were right, argue. So it was only appropriate that they repay the debt to him.

Mr. Spices supposed he wasn't too surprised when he discovered the reason for the nightly silence echoing from Mr. Veils' wing of the Bazaar.

Luckily, their eyes hadn't met, but from the bottom of the steps, Mr. Spices could see his target. He saw him look left, right, saw his shoulders hunch up just slightly. And he saw him lift the horizontal door of his tent, step outside, and run off into the cold without so much as closing it.

Mr. Spices scratched his head. Well. Isn't that interesting? Where could he be going off to?

Say, just this morning, when tensions were high, isn't it strange that he should receive a visit from Mr. Hearts?

'You heard the lost lambs' cries today too, haven't you? Talk of a walking corpse plagues our city!'

Hands on hips. Disposition far too cheery for this sort of talk.

'Well, that isn't so out of the ordinary. Shouldn't they expect that sort of thing by now?'

Gentle voice. Gently crossed legs.

'Seems to frighten them good and plenty, my dear. It's like nothing they've seen before. Of course, they haven't gotten a good look at its face - they never do - but they speak of a rotted face. No eyes. Lips burned, peeled over teeth. In tattered robes, the same color as ours. Do. You. Know. What. That. Might. Be. Friend?'

Two sets of razor-sharp teeth, entirely too close to their companion's.

'I... Find it nonsense. And I find the smell of your teeth deplorable.'

Just like sweet blood.

Ah, well how nice. That was certainly one hell of a lead. All there was to do was follow, and... Intercept when the time was right. Graces, Veils didn't really intend to chase this shadow, did he?

And the walk began.

Through tents and grass, swatting at the occasional firefly - though not too quickly.

Through cold, and the stench of regret. Quiet, quiet, you fool! Did he see you?

By the time they reached the rocky columns in their multitudes - Veils' feet scratching cold stone and Spices' treading damp grass - Mr. Spices was sure of his hunch. One of the five wells was just beyond here. No, it was visible.

Spices panicked.

He broke into a run, his breath shaking as he flew at Mr. Veils. He could only imagine the death in his colleague's eyes. The spiralling, sick despair that could have possibly taken him here, in the middle of the night, seeking the the Master who was taken from them - nay, who they gave away, bless his dedication to our noble cause of oh no no no no please no you promised they NO -, who restrained his screams first, tight-lipped discipline, realized the truth of his fate - NO, I DON'T WANT TO - and fell promptly into a darkness none of them could comprehend. Away with Mr. Candles. Bye-bye, until tomorrow. LIKE BUTTERFLIES SCAVENGING, LIKE MOUNTAINS CRUMBLING, ENTIRE WORLDS DECAYING,

None of them could comprehend it. That is, except fo Mr. Veils.

Death couldn't hope to describe the haze over his colleague's eyes when Mr. Spices so violently yanked his shoulders, spinning him around. There was just simply naught. And he tried, he tried so earnestly to hide it.

"Oh. Oh, he, hello, it's you. Lovely night, i-it would be such a waste to stay inside, I just thought I-"

What?

"I, that I might,"

You might what?

"Enough of that," Mr. Spices growled, his voice failing.

As tapers in a rushing wind.

His gaze was harsh, reprimanding. "Looking for the monster under the City's bed, eh? There is nothing to fear, I will find it for you and put the issue to rest."

"Oh," Mr. Veils tittered, so politely, so demure, "What? I."

"Yes. I know. Please. Go home, Veils. Sleep. Rest. As I know you haven't done in countless nights."

Veils' face darkened so twistedly, his eyes bulging out of his head as his gaze lowered to the ground, looking so close to wretched sickness. Like a child caught, in trouble. Proof in and of itself that this situation was rotten, toxic, dangerous - and somehow, Mr. Veils craved its punishment.

"I mustn't, I cannot keep him waiting-"

"Home."

"He speaks to me, Spices, don't you see-"

"HOME." One last shake of Mr. Veils' shoulders was all it took. Such a positively unfamiliar, heartbreaking twitch in the Master's lips. Becoming familiar with helplessness.

With a shamefully bowed head, a wordless admittance of the truth, Mr. Veils obeyed. He went far too swiftly for another word to be uttered on Mr. Spices' end, but the Master figured that this sensitive issue could be addressed tomorrow. Genuinely, as a collective.

Were the Masters capable of honesty?

Mr. Spices shook the dark thoughts, the bubbling anger from his mind, and gave a hefty sigh. Technically, his duty was filled. And yet his gut filled with unease, a sense of unfinished business. What could he be thinking?

Not of the Well.

Surely not of investigating the Well.

No, this was madness on its own, Mr. Spices chided himself for even considering something so wildly death-seeking, shook his head.

Mr. Spices made a bee-line straight for the Well. Did he crave punishment for the deceit too? Did he need the dark, to balance out the karma in his heart after handing over their innocent colleague to God-Eaters, not out of nobility or some great sacrifice - but impatience? We'd like to thank Mr. Candles for his courageous, noble sacrifice for the betterment of not just the Bazaar, but all of life as we know it, for all shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be we-

No. His common sense took over again with a deafening screech between his ears, and he stood frozen in the field between the Well and the columns. A chilly wind blew, racking his spine in violent shivers. No. This was madness. It was time to follow his own advice and go home.

Approach the well, that is, that was certainly what he told darling Mr. Veils. Hahahahaha.

The jitters in Mr. Spices' throat crescendoed into a shriek behind grit teeth as his fingers clamped on the edge of the Well - nails dug into cobblestone.

It was a rumor. A legend. An old wives' tale started just recently to scare children into obedience. If Mr. Candles resided at the bottom of this well, why did he take so long to speak up and start making himself known? There was a sure and logical explanation for this, as with all things. All shall be well. All shall be well. All shall be well.

A cold hand on Mr. Spices' shoulder.

A shriek so loud it pierced the sky.

Mr. Spices turned around such such a violent shake that for a moment, he was half-sure that he should fall backwards into the Well and confirm his suspicions. But half-unsure enough to feel silly for ever thinking that would happen.

Because who should be standing there right in front of him, other than lovely Mr. Wines! Perfect! Who else would Mr. Spices want to so gracelessly lose his composure in the presence of?

"Goodness," Wines breathed, pressing one hand to his own chest, "I thought I had injured you, my dear. The screams of crying babes simply... Flew from you."

Since he was so eloquent right this moment, Mr. Spices croaked "You'd do well to quit the mouth-talking thingy you are currently engaging in, lest you'd like to start screaming like these imaginary babes from whatever pretentious pamphlet you've picked up tonight and decided to quote."

"The mouth-talking thingy," Mr. Wines echoed, a far-off look on his face that slowly dawned into a ruthless - affectionate? - smile, "Heavens. I've got to write that down. What are you doing out here?"

Mr. Spices sneered, so desperate that their gazes should not meet, "I am fulfilling my civic duty to the Bazaar. I have directed Mr. Veils back home."

"Ah, mmhm," Wines hummed, ooh, the condescending twit, if my hands could just get acquainted with his neck, I'd- "But what are you... Doing, out here? I'd bumped into Veils on my way here. It'd been a while and the others were worried."

"Hah! Worried? For me? What for?" Mr. Spices felt his spiteful indignance rushing back, and he would have been so deeply grateful for it had he not noticed something. "... It'd been a while?"

Mr. Wines grimaced, glancing sidelong at his old friend.

"You left the halls three hours ago. No simple retrieval should take that long."

Three hours.

Wines rambled on, "I can understand maybe a half hour, perhaps even 45 minutes on the dot if you've been feeling run-down lately - speaking of which, dear, those bags under your eyes-"

Three hours.

"You say I was gone for three hours." Mr. Spices' finger drifted to his quivering lips. "About three hours?"

"About, yes," Wines answered. He could tell just by the look on Mr. Spices' face, the direction that this conversation was about to head, and he chuckled. "My dear, if you were reminiscing, I don't blame you. I know how time can fly."

Chuckling. Always chuckling. Why did Mr. Wines do that whenever something was wrong?

"No, I- I. I touched the Well for just a moment, and I- Three hours, Wines?!" Spices' voice roared, nails clawing at the sides of his own face. He, in fact, hardly noticed how Mr. Wines seemed to put aside his spite, his passive aggression, for just a moment to gingerly take Spices' face in his hands and murmur, like to a frightened child.

"You poor thing," Wines cooed, smiling so warmly, so assured, unblinking, "It's always like you to fret over nothing. But I insist, this is nothing. You fell into the web of your own memories. It happens, I swear it happens to me all the time. But I insist. This fretting will get you nowhere, dear. Here, come with me. We will return to the Bazaar, you may return to your quarters, and you might forget this night... With a bit of help from that honey of yours."

He couldn't possibly refrain from cracking a joke at a time like this, that would just be too decent.

Without budging an inch – good thing, too, for though Spices' face started to regain its hateful glare, his hands just could not stop shaking just yet - Mr. Wines went on. "Surely our good friend Mr. Veils is... Well, he's addled. You and I both know that. Hallucinating, perhaps. Utterly mad with grief, he quite simply despises himself! Poor dear. Thought he could fill the holes in his heart with politeness and kindness. He's becoming a monster – but of course, we can do something! Of course, dear, of course, hush, now."

Did Mr. Wines believe himself when he spoke?

Spices hadn't said anything. His lips quirked, and he emerged from his numb panic to feel the bitter needle prick of condescension. Well, if anything, the fact that Wines was his normal, indecent, deceitful self, was some strange comfort. He edged closer and closer to normalcy of mind and body once more with every second.

"Mr. Eaten is a fairy tale, Spices. He does not exist. Rest, and revel in that kind truth. The world is so frugal with kind truths, you know."

Mr. Spices' eyes flew wide open.

No. No. No.

Please. No.

After a moment's silence, Wines' brows knitted together. Did concern flash across that twitch of his lips, or was it contempt.

"... If I might ask, what's troubling you now?" He mumbled, chuckling again.

Mr. Spices licked his lips once, blinking, a shaky breath pushing out of his throat.

"Wines," he croaked, his throat closing around him so painfully, "Who is Mr. Eaten?"

Silence.

Mr. Wines let go of Mr. Spices' face, staring down at him.

The contempt in those familiar eyes was unmistakable this time.

But he smiled. Heavens above, how he smiled.

Lips peeled back, cracking. Fraying. Bleeding. Teeth showing – all ten of them.

Jaw unhinging.

Jaw hanging open, broken.

Jaw falling to the ground with an unceremonious thud.

Tongue lolling out, dripping reddened spit with nowhere else to go.

No.

No.

Mr. Spices stumbled backwards, feeling cold cobblestone against his back – the Well.

This would be his end. Consumed, ironically, by a specter of the past. His, the Masters' and the Bazaar's one true regret - did they know regret, in truth? Did anyone care? - And this would inevitably be the end of the rest of the Masters too.

Mr. Hearts, who had become angry and suddenly obsessed with the idea of justice after the exchange, as if he had nothing to do with it.

Mr. Wines, who simply sang in sweet tongues, pushing the memory from his mind as if it was all he could do to survive the guilt.

Mr. Veils. Fallen into dark madness, having committed the deepest level of treason against his true love. Signing a piece of paper. Smiling, seeing him off. Seeking blood and bone and gore and punishment, as if it would soothe the burning sores in his mouth.

Wines – no, "Mr. Eaten", lurched forth, limping on devoured, fly-buzzed, violated legs.

Their eyes met. Mr. Eaten's bony, bumpy hands clamped over the mouth of the Well.

He hovered over Mr. Spices.

Lolling tongue met tightly pursed lips.

How Spices shook...!

And from that sick maw came a torturously tender whisper.

"Go home, Spices. Forget this night."

With a windy swoosh, a flash of black motion, a breeze behind Mr. Spices, and the sound of cold splashing water below, Mr. Eaten was gone.

There was no time to slump against the Well and breathe like Mr. Spices wanted to. There was only time to run.

And he obeyed what he could of Mr. Eaten's commands.

He ran – flew – as fast and far as his feet could carry him. Through the columns in a breeze, over the green fields, not even swatting the fireflies this time, dodging in and out of the sleeping tents of the Bazaar, tripping on his way shuffling up the steps of the temple with a pathetic squeak, getting back to his feet, ignoring the stinging in his palms and knees, only breathing once he got through the slamming, heavy doors.

Regrettably, he could not obey the second of Mr. Eaten's commands.

There was just simply no reasonable way he could forget this night. And despite the reassuring words of Mr. Wines' image - 'but of course, we can do something! Of course, dear,' there was no reasonable way that Mr. Veils could forget the words whispered by Mr. Eaten.

At this point, Mr. Spices could handle the glorious denial of the Bazaar and its inhabitants. Anything was preferable to the ruthless, cold truth, now that he'd become aware of the rules of the game. He could play along. He could be good.

But he knew, in his heart of hearts, that there was nothing to be done for Mr. Veils.