Chapter 1: Black as Knives
Through all resistance, you're gaining ground and you know the growing, thriving part of me that you own.
(Do you recall?)
The Neath is not kind. It does not give up those that it takes. It warps and changes. Takes and takes until there is nothing left.
And with claws slicing open his back, delicate silk thread trying to make a mockery of something akin to wings from the flesh peeled from his shoulder blades, Emil wonders how it even came to this.
"I am not skilled with Shapeling Arts, not like the Flukes and not like him ." Veils had said. It may have been skilled with a needle and thread, but flesh does not yield like cotton or velvet. It's slick with blood and claws slip messily. Emil tries to recall, then, how he came to this place.
Chapter 2: Red as Riots
Invade my braincells. Start replicating yourself. Lower my defenses. Start spreading under my skin.
The truth is that it began with a bottle of absinthe.
Emil had always made a living hunting. Whether it be monsters or people, he survived on blood of others. People around London called him a bounty hunter. He earned the rapacious part of his title later.
But bounty hunters can only do so much when death isn't permanent in the Neath. He occasionally gets jobs from the Masters. Those are his pride and joy. But they are too rare even with his reputation. So monster hunting became his go to after a while.
Before the bars close, they whisper of the Vake and the ludicrous reward on its head, how it had never been seen up close, how it had never been so much as wounded.
Something to know about Emil is that he is not smart. He dropped out of school after learning the bare minimum of how to read and write. But he is determined in many ways. He's young and desperate to get something more from life. He thinks that means wealth and glory. He wonders what it would be like to be worshiped. He's not stealthy and has made a name for himself by getting his jobs done with a loud gun and bloody knuckles.
So the Vake becomes his quarry, like it does for many monster hunters.
The Black Wing Absinthe is rather worrying to hold. It’s black and thick but the few people Emil could find to talk about it swore it would help attract the Vake. He holds it tightly to his chest as he wanders out into the swamps where the monster was last spotted. It hadn’t exactly been easy to get ahold of. He has put plenty of gross things in his mouth before but…
“Fuck it,” he mumbles. He makes sure his rifle is loaded and takes a big swig.
It burns like hell, tastes like sewer water with a coppery aftertaste. He’s immediately woozy, tipsy, and then he’s flying. He has wings like the sky, spread and soaring. The air rushes around him. A memory? A dream? He can't move, just watch as his wings tilts, guiding him across the dark water of the zee. Ahead, an island. Candles dotted up the path from the docks. Emotions barely human swim through his head. He can't name them, can't understand them.
Then thoughts. Not his but they ignite inside his mind, burnt down on a blackened wick.
know too much not enough think they know worship north farther turn now love lost shame resignation determination descend feast no other burning candles candles candles Candles Candles Candles !Candles!
Emil wakes with a start, covered in sweat and nursing a nasty hangover. He's still in the swamp but he's hungry. A growling kind of hunger that shakes his bones. His stomach feels so empty it hurts. He staggers up right. Had the Absinthe done that?
All he can think of is a name he can't grasp, just out of reach. He catches rats to eat. Thinks about hunting bigger prey.
The next day a man stumbles into the docks bloody and hysterical. He talks about a bat attacking cultists. No one believes him. Emil gets a note from a Master to kill him. So he does but not before the man rants and raves about the Number. Emil listens, before pulling the trigger.
Chapter 3: Red as Wounds
Don't worry, I dream about you almost constantly. I wake to breathe your name and still there's no relief.
(The first of Many.)
He drinks the Absinthe more now. Vake hunters are turning up dead. The dreams don't stop. Emil is determined to bring the beast low and he works on learning his target. A map with markers for every attack. Vake victims don't come back. It's through with its kills. Further, the visions given by the Absinthe are clearly that of something intelligent. He memorizes how it hunts while drinking a glass or two at night.
It doesn't taste as bitter now. It almost tastes like a comfort. He dreams about killing the Vake and eating it. Of drowning it in a well.
He never hears the name again. No matter how much wants it. He had forgotten it as soon as he had heard it. He wants to remember. The Vake knows. The beast seems to think about the north often, but Emil never sees it hunt on islands again.
At the end of a long week, Emil sets up camp in Fingerprick Wastes. He lights a few candles for light and holds his bottle of Black Wing Absinthe close. The Vake had been seen here just the night before. He wants to drink but doesn't, not yet. He double and then triple checks his rifle.
The sound of wings above him makes him flinch. The air is displaced around him. A few of his candles go out. He knows the Vake is more than capable of flying silently. He squints upwards, seeing nothing but false stars of the Neath's roof. And then some of the stars move. His breath catches, he grabs his gun. A gust of air puts out yet another candle.
This is frustrating and he won't admit it but he's unnerved. Was it honestly playing with him?
"Hey, fucker, do you wanna drink with me or not?" He holds up the bottle like a toast, not expecting anything, "Cause I'll drink it without you and it makes me see weird shit." He grabs his matchbook to light another candle, hoping the light will help calm his nerves.
Now, nothing. Silence. For a terrifyingly long time.
And then a swoop, and all the candles go out. The beast is gone again. It sure seems to be playing.
Okay well. "Rude," he grumbles, leaning back. "I mean if you're playing with me then you aren't killing anyone else so," he fumbles to relight one of his candles. "Although I don't blame you for not wanting a drink. It tastes like shit and what the fuck is to the north anyway?" Talking to a giant bat monster that seems to be hunting him is completely in character and stupid of him.
He gets enough of his candles relit to give him enough light to calm down. He glances up again, trying to see any vague outline of his quarry. Nothing. No movement. No more playing.
He wonders if the Vake left. He closes his eyes. "I hunt when I get bored and you are making hunting boring. How did you manage it?" He could feel a headache coming on. And he's hungry again.
Then claws swipe across his shoulder. The force nearly knocking him forward. It tears his shirt and splits the flesh of his shoulder in one sweep. The blood is warm. He curses but doesn't have enough time to worry about the wound. He aims his gun. He can see it's outline, flying straight. He fires and the knockback makes him wince. He fumbles to reload.
When the shot misses, he hears a laugh echo all around him. This isn't a normal animal, he realizes with dread. Is it even an animal at all? A shiver runs down his spine. What is the Vake?
"Bitch!" He scans the air, trying to find the vague shape of the creature. He's not fast enough, air rushes around him and then the impact throws him to his back. Something crushes his arm. He snarls, trying to grapple the massive body atop of him, grab a hold of anything. He finds his gun. Shoves it upward.
And then its wings spread wide. There are whole constellations in them. They sparkle just like the real sky that he hasn't seen since he was a kid on the surface. He hesitates.
Talons plunge into his soft of gut as easily as a knife into butter. Emil howls in pain, vision blurring, eyes watering. He's going to fucking die, isn't he? He can't help but laugh, hysterical, "Don't play with your food," he manages to hiss, high on adrenaline. He jerks the gun upward and fires.
It connects, it has to, but the Vake doesn't flinch. Instead, it squeezes.
And Emil jolts awake on a beach.
Dying in the Neath is such a strange affair, Emil learns. But he gets back, shoulder and stomach scarred. He's stuck here now, he knows. The only stars he'll ever see again are the false lights on the roof and those in the Vake's wings.
He blinks, sighing. He's learned some things, at least. The Vake responds to taunts and dying isn't that bad besides the unimaginable pain. He's got some sick scars. Also that fucker didn't eat him which is a waste. The first rule of hunting is to use everything!
He's exhausted, though. Ready to head home to the comfort of his own shitty bed. But not before drinking some of the absinthe, because he is already making horrible decisions. Might as well make more. It's become a ritual that he is not so keen on stopping.
He closes his eyes, letting the thoughts of the Vake come to him in waves. It felt good to not be himself, if just for a bit.
The Vake, however, is furious.
northseeker proudhunter useless filthy alive why have the guts kill again.
He had gotten under the Vake's skin. He considers that an accomplishment.
The next morning the scar on his stomach weeps and bleeds. He will seek five more until he stands at the mouth of a well, yelling for the Name.
Chapter 4: Red as the Waters
If there ever was an order to seeking, Emil is doing it all wrong.
All my convictions slowly melting away. Drifting. Fading. Far away from this place.
He needs to know who in order to remember them. He needs the Name.
This whole thing started because of the Vake, he had seen the Vake's mind. The Vake knew and he would get the Vake to tell him. Probably much easier said than done but he did know one thing, the Vake hunted Vake Hunters and he is a Vake Hunter. It would come to him.
A circle of candles, a sip of the wine. And a song he heard in a dream. The words are lost to him, unable to be reproduced in human tongue, so hums it as he waits.
But the Vake did not want drop the facade. It wants to hunt. And a Vake Hunter and fledgling Seeker in one is the best prey it's ever been given.
It lands atop a massive tree regardless. Bright eyes glaring at Emil.
Emil meets its gaze steadily. He had practiced what to say. The Vake is smart, human even. He hopes to use its own thoughts against it. His dreams had become more solid, the voice in the back of his head louder. He knows what needs to be done. He wants the Vake to know that.
"Not going to kill me again?" He checks before continuing so it doesn't get bored and decide to do it anyway. "When I first drank this," a motion to the bottle of absinthe, "I heard you say a name. I felt such sadness, and loss, and anger from you since the beginning. But that name. I want it. You won't tell me, that's fair, but I was given a... List," he doesn't drop his gaze from the beast's even though he wants to.
He doesn't think the voice in his head is necessarily male, but using male pronouns make Emil feel closer to it.
"He wants someone to remember him. He someone to be someone again. And I'm going to be that someone. This all started because of you. Take that as you will, but I'm here to thank you for killing me."
Those words sound strange even to him, like a double edged sword on his tongue. They sound right. But, he adds, for one reason or another, "And that is not to say you are forgiven. You aren't." And he isn't sure where those words came from.
"... Taking this one so readily?" the Vake purrs, its voice an unexpected chirp. "There is nothing stopping me from tearing this one to shreds... If you don't do it first." It is not speaking to Emil.
Its voice makes him shiver. He shifts, "I'm nothing if not determined," he glares. "Would you like to grace me with some enlightenment to hurry me along this horrible destiny or should I continue to blindly stumble along?" A pause as he takes a step closer to where it's perched, "I'll find out, you know I will. Would you really kill me over and over to stop me? That doesn't sound like a fun hunt. I would accept death at your hands, over and over, and you know that."
"You don't want me to kill you like this. You want to relive that moment. Again, and again."
The well. The chains. The pain.
He pauses, not expecting a conversation so he chooses his next words carefully. "If you won't give me his name, what about yours?"
"... The Vake."
Liar. Betrayer. Master. The words flash through his head with emotions strong enough for his knees to buckle. He knows instantly that the Vake is a simple cover. A useless one, before such a familiar memory.
He scrunches up his nose in distaste, " Mr Vake, then," he challenges. "Don't think that fits the naming conventions you lot keep. But fine." He makes a show of gathering his things, before coming up the base of the tree, "Well then, Vake the Betrayer," he lets the words drip like venom, "Won't you be so kind to show me to the well?" He has no doubt he could find it easily without help but there's no fun in that.
"You would do well not to ask again," it spits, leaning down with fangs bared that glint in the low light of the candles.
"Scared of ghosts? I thought maybe you would like to join me."
"To repeat the past?" It demands. "Again, and again, until some sick urge is satisfied?"
"You have some pretty sick urges too," he smirks, a bit too relaxed when in the presence of a killer. He pushes his luck even more. "What would he say? Seeing you lower yourself to these wild hunts at night?"
"Ask him." It replies, voice tense, mere moments from giving the bastard what he wants and tearing him to pieces.
He shrugs, giving a lazy smile, "Fine, be difficult. You two have a history and I'll figure it out. You're good company anyway."
"Would that I could say the same for you," it growls.
"You're still here, still talking to me, and haven't killed me. You seem to be enjoying it," he leans back a bit, trying to get a better look at the creature, curious. "At least come down so I can get a better look. You're de-robbed already, might as well let me see you."
It draws in on itself, apparently nervous. "You have quite a lot of courage to instruct me," it remarks in a low growl.
"Would you rather I beg?" He tilts his head to the side. "To be quite honest, it's your wings I want to get a better look at. Was preoccupied with the whole, being disemboweled thing, but... I think about them a lot," he's being too honest with something that can and has killed him. But it's the truth.
"Is that so?" It asks. It pauses a moment... before caving, and unfurling the wings wide, showing the pattern on the inside.
"Just like the stars you can see on the surface," he whispers, rocking back on his heels to take them in. "I miss them," his eyebrows furrow. He misses them more than he thought he would. He didn't miss them before this. He remembers them being bigger, closer. These aren't his memories.
"... So do I," the Vake admits, folding its wings in. "I will have my eye on you," it warns, immediately taking off into the air. Silent, like practiced hunter.
And a single thought rings in Emil's mind: it can't stand this.
Emil watches it go, waits for the emotions that aren't his to fade. Then, turns towards to make the walk to the Forgotten Quarter.
A well. An old one. A call. A whisper, a need.
He finds it hidden amidst the rubble. He clings to the edge like it's going to disappear, shaking. He stares into it, biting his lip. He's dizzy just looking into the dark pit. He drops a stone in. He does not hear it hit the bottom.
Emil closes his eyes, evens his breathing. His lips are chapped and he isn't sure what he's doing in life anymore. Chasing voices in his head and fighting with memories that aren't his. He wants them. He wants to know everything. He opens his eyes.
And throws himself into the well.
The fall feels like it takes forever, wind rushing around him and glass-like obsidian cutting into him. Thoughts come to him as he descends. It is an incredibly stupid thing to do. He may never return from this. It may be a permanent death. He's going to splatter against the bottom like the rats he hunts with his rifle.
Thankfully, he hits the water, and not stone. But he finds himself in an enormous cavern, with the most gorgeous light...
And wounds that threaten to bring him low.
Too much pain to even tell what may be broken. Maybe a limb, very obviously a few ribs. And more than enough blood loss to make him light-headed. He grits his teeth, fighting the urge to pass out. He blinks a few times to see if the light remains. It's violet and fills the whole cave like a mist. It is... Calming, in a way. It makes his brain unpleasantly itch... But otherwise, it is nice to look at.
It relaxes him, even as it becomes harder to tread water. The pain and cold water makes his limbs heavy and the light is still there behind his eyelids when he closes his eyes. Surprisingly even to himself, he doesn't panic when his lungs start to fill with water.
It's his seven death but he can barely remember the first six. This time, he doesn't quite remember much when he meets the boatman. He doesn't feel an urge to get back. Just... Confusion.
When he does came back, however, the confusion is even worse. At least his bones mended. He's sprawled out on the rocky edges of the cavern. He tries to clear his head, closing his eyes and running a hand through his hair. He had expected some clarity, not this.
He curses, reaches for his wine, only to grasp at nothing. Right. He jumped down a well. He puts his head into his hands, trying to find any point in his memory he can focus on to help ease the confusion.
A moment later, he forgets the wine entirely. He can't think. He can't function.
... Where is he again? How'd he get down here?
(You're early.) A female voice. In the cave? In his head? Everywhere and nowhere.
He jumps, eyes looking around in shock. "Who's there?" He growls, trying to find anything he can use as a weapon. "Don't really want to play games so don't spit any cryptic shit."
(Do you know what this place is?... Would you even remember if you did?)
Emil feels like he's being sized up. Examined.
"What did I say about the cryptic shit?" He mumbles, "No, I have no idea where I am. Happy?" He stands shakily, dusting himself off. "Unless you're hot like a Sphinx, I don't want Sphinx riddles."
(Do you want me to help you to the exit?)
He blinks, finding it hard to even recall the first part of the conversation. "No. Wait. You said I'm early. That means I'm supposed to be here. Eventually. You know something. Tell me," a pause before he adds, "Please."
(This is hardly the place for learning.) She warns. But that only confirms that she knows something. Or that she knows everything.
He closes his eyes to steady himself and then steps forward. "I drowned to come here so you could at least give me a polite shove in the right direction. It was at least more pleasant than the disemboweling."
(Are you prepared to give up your search for the Vake, if it means more answers?) She challenges.
He flinches, chewing at his lip before letting his shoulder slump. "I think the Vake and I are tied together no matter what. Not so sure I could kill it anyway, if that's what you mean."
(Not as a hunter. But perhaps as something lesser. Come with me.)
Back toward the water.
He obeys, willing himself not to shake as he listens. He feels like he's getting closer to something but a rational part of him is still afraid.
(They should leave you alone, after this. All of them, except Veils.)
The water is beckoning.
He pauses, "Veils..." He tests the name as if seeing how it feels to say it. How it tastes. "That's the Vake, then," he looks to the water. Then, slowly, he goes to it.
(You are quick.) She commends as she lets him step forward. She usually has to guide those who get this far... And those ones always retreated before the water reached their head. This one is happy to slowly be forgotten. He has other candles to get... Meditation to do. But this is progress, in leaps and bounds.
He gladly embraces the water again, wading in with no resistance. What's dying again? He had been promised a way to become something else, to have a purpose, and he plans on fulfilling that.
And the water climbs. This time, the panic of drowning does not overcome him. It is... Almost comforting.
(Perhaps, in time, he came to like being The Drowned Man.) It felt like this is how it is supposed to be. (You're more alike him than any other.) And with that, he is forgotten. (And you find comfort in that... Don't you?)
When he opens his mouth to answer that yes, god, yes it's the most comfortable thing he's ever felt, water fills his lungs. And it feels right.
He doesn't quite remember how he got home. But now that he's there, he has A Candle. (And me.)
One of seven, he knows instantly. Seven is the number, and he's drawing so close. His body scarred, his memories returning. He just needs a bit more…
Chapter 5: Red as Desire
Well that's one way to get a memory of chains.
Don't worry, I need it. I'm oh so incomplete. Just hurry, come feed it so I can sleep.
(A memory of chains.)
The absinthe is sweeter than usual, but also burns more afterward, turning in his stomach and making his throat hurt. There is a painful throbbing in his weeping scars. He’s developing several bad habits all at once, all that show he’s comfortable with pain.
"And I guess I really like to get under Veils' skin but maybe he's just getting under mine," he laughs to himself, pausing to see if the pain lessens before continuing. He's gotten a bit too used to talking to himself. And sometimes he gets a reply.
(You are drinking his essence. His blood.)
Is that what it is? It did make sense.
He blinks, looks back at the bottle, "Bet that's weird for him," and takes another swig. He shudders, though, feeling it burn. "Does dying over and over again make me a masochist?" He slurs, stuffing the bottle back into his bag before he can be tempted to drink any more. He practically kicks down his front door, stripping out of his bloody clothes before laying down. He runs a hand over each scar.
(That is not what makes you a masochist.) Did he just get burned by a woman who didn't even exist?
He ignores her with a huff, rolling over. It had been a long day and he likes to drink and dream. But then, right before he manages to embrace the comfort of sleep, a beat of wings nearby. And then, a burning in Emil's core. A need. A desire. It's not even his, he realizes. Veils is stalking him like prey and its excited about it.
He abruptly stumbles out of his bed to throw open a window. He fumbles a bit to light a candle and places it at the open window like a beacon. "Veils," he whispers harshly. "You're out there, aren't you?"
"I am." A voice calls back immediately. It is happy to admit it... Frustrating as it is that Emil has such a strong link.
He pauses, unsure before continuing, "Come inside. Please." He whispers. His heart is pounding. He's drunk and needy. He steps away from the window, giving Veils room to get in.
Or leave. He waits.
"In a way, I'm more inside than you are, right now. You left most of yourself back in the well."
Emil can't help but blush at the comment. Barely manages to not say something stupid and downright dirty. It isn’t clear who it is speaking to, but it lets itself in through the window, a fairly tight squeeze that Emil isn’t so sure it can make it. Once inside, Veils stands to its full height, nearly hitting the roof as it looks down at Emil with a sneer. It's wearing its robes so it hadn't been hunting.
"Isn't that what you wanted?" He says instead, allowing himself to stare, "For me to be trapped in a well?"
"If only that was where you stayed," it growls, cursing its throbbing anatomy. And Emil realizes, then, that Masters can go into heat. And from the thoughts he can barely reach in the back of his intoxicated mind, he knows Veils hasn't been in heat in a very, very long time.
(If you do this, it may kill you outright.)
He acknowledges her comment by stepping closer, reaching out tentatively to touch it, "You came to me this time," he tilts his head to the side, smirking.
"When have I not?" Veils challenges, pulling itself away hashly, folding into itself as if embarrassed. Its tone is almost bitter. "I've been exploring your mind for weeks. Finding every nook and cranny..."
But, now, it is not the Vake. Here, it comes to Emil as Mr Veils.
He chuckles breathlessly, "Then you know exactly what I think of you..." Even if the thoughts didn't feel like his own. He withdraws his hands, biting his lip. "Please?" He asks carefully.
Time seems to stop. The two stare at each other. How low will either of them stoop for this? In the candle-light Emil is painfully human, but his words – Veils crumbles.
"... Lay down," it rumbles. It starts to shed its own robes, but it did withdraw some silken restraints. He watches closely as he lays down. He's scared to say anymore in fear it would break the spell he currently has over Veils.
"Perhaps these would be more effective if you didn't keep fanning old flames," Veils remarks quietly. "But no matter. I will teach him," it walks over, binding Emil down to his bed. It's tight enough to hurt, despite being silk, and it weighs heavily on his mind. It feels like the restraints burn. His breathing catches.
(A memory of chains, more vivid than any other.)
He lets out a shaky breath, already wet enough he can feel it. His head is spinning, trapped between currently and memories that aren't his. He shifts uncomfortably from the strength of the memories. He has to remind himself to breathe and focus on Veils instead.
"Now I see why you're so comfortable in this human's skin." Veils scoffs, claws dragging down from Emil’s collarbone to his stomach, pausing at the scars it left. "Really? You willingly took over this?" There’s a hint of disgust in Veils’ tone as it presses a claw to his clit.
He hisses, hips rocking up. "I would love to not be a human," he mumbles, "But this what you get right now so make use of it." He lets his eyes hungrily take in Veils' body, cunt feeling much too empty.
"... You've never been so blunt." It grunts. "I should kill this one before it gets further," Veils leans over him, a hand wrapping around his throat. He narrows his eyes, but leans his head back as if to give more room. A challenge. A dare. All while grinding his hips up and panting.
"Veils," he breathes weakly. "I'll just come back and you know it. But if it makes you happy, do it ."
"A well, as is tradition. Irrigo. Burying the last remnants. It should have been enough," it snarls softly, tightening its fingers. But it grinds itself down, cock sliding against his cunt. Emil shudders, a low groan as he realizes just how big Veils is. Hot-slick rubbing between his folds, pressing hard to his clit. Will it even fit? He’s sure that’s Veils’ thought and not his but he swallows.
Veils’ voice quivers slightly at its next words, "I forgot you. It should have been enough." A sharp thrust and it sinks into his cunt, stretching and burning. Veils’ claws tighten around his neck. The harmony of both pain and pleasure makes his vision blur. He moans hoarsely, cunt clenching. He twists in pleasure and pain, arching up to feel every inch of Veils' body it would allow. He wants all of it.
"It wasn't. I'm here and you won't forget me again. I promise you that, Veils," it's a threat and he feels light headed. "I'm yours forever," he hisses, grinding himself against the massive cock inside of him. It’s not even half in and he feels full enough that it aches in all the right ways.
"That's not your intention," it barks, "You have others. I've heard what your other Seekers have said. I've heard – I know you beckon them north."
Its fingers are shaking.
His head spins, he feels distant and dizzy. Words that aren't his spill from his mouth desperately, like they had been waiting to be spoken, like water being choked up from lungs, "I want to be remembered. I want to be mourned, avenged. But what they do when they arrive, whether they knock or open, I can't control. So let me have this, Betrayer. I want to live again. I want you." A shaky breath, a sharp roll of his hips, "And if I can give you back the sky, my death will be worth it."
"So that's what all this is?" it demands. The Betrayer had been expecting its comeuppance, not love. Perhaps it is projecting, or the millennia of guilt had eaten at its psyche. It presses itself forward, hilting inside Emil. "One long plan to try to return me to the skies?"
No, that’s not it. That’s not all of it. Thoughts are too hard to catch when they aren’t his. He can’t reach them. He’s not ready.
"Fuck, Veils ," he whines, shaking, voice catching, "H-how do you expect me to think when you're so big?" He tries to relax himself, the intrusion too big. As if trying to catch onto thoughts that are only half his is hard enough, he can't focus on anything feeling this full, the pulse of its cock inside. He can feel each vein and throb.
It gives a dark chuckle, pulling its hips back, then shoves them forward again, punctuating it with a squeeze of its fingers. "I'm surprised you're managing to think as your lungs empty," its teases firmly, bucking its hips.
He tosses his head back, struggling against his bindings in a desperate attempt to touch it. Black spots swim at his vision. "If you make me pass out before I get to feel you cum inside me, I'm going to be pissed," he words don't carry the same weight as they would if he wasn't a mess, practically drooling and about to cum all over the dick of a Master.
It laughed at that. It considered it… But instead, it just kept bouncing his hips, getting closer, and enjoying the company of the once-existent Master.
He whines sharply, hips meeting each thrust desperately. He's chanting Veils' name, cunt clenching. He's trying very hard not to cum but his whole body is shaking. He knows if he cums first, he will pass out and now this is a game to him. Veils realizes quickly Emil is holding back.
"You runts... Always trying to prove yourself," it hisses, own breathing labored as it tightens its claws. Emil can’t breathe. Fight or flight is taking over.
And then he feels a sharp rush of cum. Each spurt is the equivalent of a human's entire load of cum. The feeling of being loaded so completely easily makes Emil go over the edge at the same time. He cums with a loud moan, whole body shuddering. He tries not to black out, wanting to be with it more but the pleasure, mixed with the choking, is too much. He eases into the darkness, allowing it to give him the embrace Veils won't.
When he wakes up, he’s on a small rowboat. Of course, Veils made good on its promise to kill him.
... Except it didn’t. The ship washes ashore on a small island, perhaps a hundred feet across. It feels oddly familiar, safe. Emil pulls himself from the boat, legs shaking. It’s pitch black but there is grass and he slowly moves out of the sand to it. And in the center, there is a well. Black stones, on the near-black grass. It looks artificially picturesque. He doesn't even hesitate to approach the well, leaning against it to run his hands over the edges.
"Want me to jump in again?" He asks, not expecting any response.
The well feels as if it resonates with him. Inside he could see the Master. The was-Master. It is curled at the bottom, flesh having long left. It moves gently, as if breathing even though the well is full of water.
He feels a stab of pain in his chest. He leans over the edge and reaches out as far as he can. "Here. I'll help you." He isn't sure what would happen, practically inviting the Master into his soul but he feels they are one already. Is this all that's left? Then he will take this part, take care of it. Maybe it will take him over, maybe they will share, maybe they will both find peace. And that's what he wants. He knows then.
He leans in farther, arm outstretched, "Candles, come on, take my hand."
The creature does not move. But perhaps – perhaps there is more to do, first. Tasks echoing in his head.
He did not hurt enough to be Eaten.
He sighs, and makes a promise that would shape him forever. "I'm not leaving you down there. I'll be back." He straightens up. "I'm sure Veils misses you," he adds quietly. He pushes himself from the well.
And his eyes ease open. He’s back in his room.
And he’s still bound to the bed, with Veils nowhere to be seen.
He hisses, jerking against his bindings. "Fuck you, Veils!" He curses, "Really? Asshole." He's still filled with cum, sore, and stranded. He tugs and wiggles, each movement loosening the silk but also burning against his flesh. Each jolt against them hurts worse and worse until his wrists are raw and bleeding. But eventually, he is free.
He rubs at one of the bleeding wounds angrily. If that was Veils trying to stop him, it only made him eager to keep going. He gets up to get cleaned up and dressed, wincing the whole time.
(Perhaps you shouldn’t have bedded something as big as Veils but you're soft for it, aren't you? Just like him.)
He pointedly ignores her as he grabs one of pieces of silk used to bind him and ties it into a bow around his neck.
Maybe he is soft for the Master.
Chapter 6: Red as Betrayal
Undone and overpowered. Drawn into your movement.
As days pass, Emil dreams of the Winking Isle more. He tells stories to the well. He picked up a job for Wines to kill someone who knew too much in exchange for more Absinthe. A very angry cat had followed him home. He dreams of Egypt.
The well doesn't respond, not really. But sometimes when he wakes up he knows what to do. One night he dreams of Veils. Of Betrayal. He wakes up with a desperate need to feel the same high Veils did then.
Of course, betrayal seems hard when he has no friends. He sighs. The closest he has is probably fellow hunters. Perhaps even his fellow Vake Hunters. He could share some of his knowledge then lead them right to Veils. He stands up. And heads to the bar at the Watchmaker's Hill. He's relatively known there among other monster hunters, he could get an audience talking about the Vake and its love for candles. Dropping hints on how to start seeking a certain name.
And it works wonderfully. A crowd gathers, drinking and adoring the tales. Some swearing they would go and seek the Vake anew.
Emil realizes, after a moment, that the bartender had put down a new drink in front of him. Perhaps the bartender didn't realize he did it, either. But regardless before Emil sits his second candle.
Like leading sheep to the slaughter. Maybe Veils will thank him. He grabs the candle, pulling it close to him. He expected to feel some guilt, but none really came, instead he wrapped up his conversations and stories and headed home with a skip in his step. He puts the candle next to his first, licking his lips. Closer still.
A new collection of Vake Hunters turn up dead in the coming weeks, each past the point of returning. To Emil's surprise, an expensive waistcoat shows up at his door, dark fabrics and red lace accents. Handmade with a tag reading Mr Veils' LUXURY SILKS and TAILORED VESTMENTS. It fits him perfectly.
Chapter 7: THE NUMBER
I feel you as you take control of every sense, of every thought.
He is bound to be noticed before long. He knows he has to work fast now. Dreams are of another life, other times. He’s so close he can taste the lacre. Soon. Soon.
A letter is jammed into his mail slot, addressed to him. No return address. Ominous. Another letter from the Masters? They hadn't even noticed his Seeking since his first candle. They barely batted an eye at him unless he went to them first.
Well except Veils. But that's exactly what she said would happen. She hadn't lied to him yet.
(I won't. I'm not the Betrayer. But you trust too easily.)
He sighs, because yes, he trusts so very easily. It's always been a problem for him. Naive maybe. He never could read people. He snatches up the letter, setting his rifle down as he rips it open. Who knows, it could be a love letter.
Yeah, no, it isn't a love letter. Instead, it is a set of instructions.
You are at a crossroads.
The crossroads candle will be at the carnival, the mirror tent, at midnight.
He’s glad for how simple it is. Reading gives him a headache.
(It is very clear. And quite possibly a trap.)
Has he learned from every other trap he's walked into? Nope.
He makes sure to keep his brass knuckles on as he leaves with enough time to make it there by midnight. He hates the Carnival and as empty as it is at midnight, he's on edge. Always too cheery and now, it’s downright scary. He makes a quick beeline for the House of Mirrors. And holds his breath.
Each mirror is labeled with cursive font and he can’t read that elegant script. This is not a popular attraction and for what he thinks is a good reason. Emil swears he can smell the sea, smell salt. The first mirror he looks at is normal, his messy hair, bloodshot eyes with bags under them, his dark skin covered in bruises and dirt. He raises a hand to fix his hair. His reflection does not.
Each mirror after shows a twisted reflection of himself. One is leaking blood from the eyes. One is even more muscular – to the point of looking inhuman. Another has a mouth that he swears is wrong – a mouth that could swallow people, and the world.
He hurries through, trying not to look. Even when a reflection with wings catches his eyes.
But the the last reflection isn't his at all. The eternal darkness behind him is matched with a complete opposite. A brilliant light. The silhouette of a woman, instead of his masculine figure. A woman who seemed more substantial than he is, at this point.
"'Bout time," she remarks cooly, the smell of blood and tobacco overcoming the salt.
He crosses his arms, huffing, "I'm not that late."
"Not to the appointment. But you should'a been here long ago," she replies, puffing a bit of smoke, "You've come a long way. Further than I did."
"Thank you?" He looks uncomfortable. "I get the impression that I'm doing this all out of order and... Different than most."
"There's an order?" She laughs, "Perhaps of difficulty. You were... very eager to be forgotten. It almost makes the crossroads seem passed," she shakes her head, "You think you can do this?"
He nods without hesitation. "I made a promise," he says quickly, rocking on his heels slightly. "You've done this then?" A pause, "Did Veils… v isit you too?"
"...Veils? Oh honey , you're lucky to be alive after talking to it. It knows you are doing this?" Her voice and face show absolute and slightly horrified shock.
"Uh, I mean it killed me once but... Not the second time..." he's blushing now, voice trailing off before he continues, "He doesn't usually do that then?"
"Not the second– What the hell have you gotten into?" She scolds, arms crossed, "Stop. Now. With seekin' and... whatever that is," she instructs sternly. She can't actually be worried about him? Her voice is honest though, like a concerned parent.
"What? Stop?" He growls, "I've come so far. No." His voice is firm as he glares, "I won't stop. Never."
"Do you feel like you have to do? Or are you just that stubborn?" She hisses.
"Both," he huffs, "Do you have what I need or not?"
"I do," she seems to give in, "But first: what motivates you? Why do you want to do this? What drives you to keep on, 'spite of... well, all of it."
He flinches back, shoulders rising up defensively. "I... I want to be useful. I want to help him. I want to be something – someone else."
She pauses. There is some quiet consideration. And maybe, a small shudder. "... Can't say I don't know the feeling," she admits quietly. Did he make her cry? "And you'd give up everything?" She repeats, "Your body? Your mind? Your soul?"
“ Everything ," he says firmly, "If it gives him even a small amount of peace."
She looks him up and down, eyes narrowed.
"Deal." She answers finally, holding a candle out for him to take, mirror between them be damned.
He doesn't hesitate to snatch it out of her hands, feeling pretty damn pleased with himself. "Thank you," he tells her honestly.
He jolts awake, then. The candle is already on his windowsill, but his whole body aches. His world is swirling. And wow, he wishes he was dead. He closes his eyes to steady himself. The first three had practically fallen into his lap. The next he doesn't suppose will that easy. He grabs his rifle, his bag, his shitty blood-wine. He wants to visit the well again. He can think better there.
No, he finds out quickly, he cannot think better there. There, his mind is swimming, and he's hungry.
But he feels closer to himself than ever.
– To Mr Eaten. Feels closer to Mr Eaten.
(A relatively useless distinction considering what you’ve agreed to.)
His head hurts worse but he doesn't want to leave right away. He sits down, taking a drink of his Absinthe and resting. Just for a bit. He's exhausted. He wants to sleep. But here he doesn't feel as lonely. He lays his head onto his knees and closes his eyes.
But it wasn't long before there is a frantic buzzing in the brain.
!help! !help! !love! !not again! !NEVER AGAIN!
He jumps, startled. Fuck. Was that Veils? He stumbles upright, eyes instinctively looking towards the sky even though he knows Veils wouldn't come out here. It had been loud enough it sounded like Veils had been right there. He focuses on the voice then, trying to see if he can get a hint of where the Master currently is. He's going to find Veils.
It is in the Bazaar, between two Spires, marching down a row of shops. It is fast. Pacing? The anxious feeling is normal to Emil even if it's not his. The pure agitation, not so much.
Veils is thinking about him and Emil is intent to make it worse.
He rushes to it as fast as possible. Heart pounding, he doesn't know why he's so ready to torment it but a giddy sort of glee is there. As soon as he sees the Master, he calls out its name, running up to it and immediately reaching out to grab its cloak.
(What a way to get killed. Touching a Master.)
Sure enough, Veils spins around immediately, backhanding Emil in the face and knocking him to the ground.
"Do not touch me," it snarls, voice dripping with venom, staring down at Emil. Conflicted feelings followed by physical contact? Nope.
"Oh but you can touch me ?" He spits, standing up with a wince and brushing himself off. Instinctively, he checks to make sure the bow he's tied around his neck is still there. "You're thinking hard enough to give me a headache. I can hear it," He stands as tall as he can, which isn't much by human standards and even less compared to Veils. But he hopes he looks brave.
"Do not pretend you know my–" It starts, pointing to Emil for a moment. Before its firm hand drooped. "... Did you turn your restraints into an accessory ?" It asks, sounding incredulous. Is it offended? Shocked? Emil tries to read its stance, and the thoughts in the back of his head.
He feels his face heat up, crossing his arms defensively. "Silk is expensive. Not like that matters to you." Not going to admit maybe he wanted to keep it. "Does that bother you?" He cocks his head to the side, a grin that could only be described as shit-eating on his lips.
"You are playing a dangerous game," Veils warns in a low voice. "Why are you here?" It demands, gloved claws settling on its hips. It is usually the most upbeat in public but it has tired of playing pretend.
!heart hammering! !body needy! !horrible human!
"You're thinking of me," he says simply, "And maybe I'm rather fond of our games. Especially if they end up like they did last time," he shrugs lazily, still grinning.
"I kill people like you on regular occasion," it growls. A pause. "... Want to take a chance and see if I do?" It proposes then, holding out a hand.
"You've already killed me and look at how well that turned out for you," he takes the hand without hesitation, stepping closer. "If you think killing me will make you feel better, try it." It's a dangerous and insane game and he loves it. The threat turns him on, heart beating fast. He thinks Veils will eventually give up, give in, and he's unsure whether he wants to help the guilt or make it worse.
Veils hauls him off in a rush, fury building. It wants to destroy this cocky seeker. Make sure he never returns. Mock his–
It's doing it again. Treating the seeker as if he is the real deal. Why did this one feel special? Why did it want, so badly, to rekindle lost love in someone who isn't even a Curator?
Emil stumbles a few times trying to keep up but can't help but laugh slightly. "Eager?" He teases. He is enjoying this far more than he should, far more than his own emotions have any business being so attached.
"Eager for what?" It spits, opening a door of Copper, leading the man into one of the Spires.
"Well you're either going to kill me, or fuck me. Maybe both. And, as far as I can tell, we both get off from either of those it seems," he pretends to look around, but he gaze always come back to very obviously checking Veils out. "If I had to guess, you don't get much ass these days. Pent up?" Emil is completely the type to ask a Master about their sex life.
And Veils nearly sputters at the comment.
"You forget your place," it growls, tensing up as they made their way up the spiral stairs. He is moments from snapping on Emil.
He hums, finally having some sense to shut up, at least for now. It's too easy to be too comfortable around Veils and, although he loves watching the Master get angry, he doesn't exactly want to die again to it, despite how exciting that may be to the dumb side of his brain. But his heart is beating fast enough Veils could feel it. Hammering along. Begging for pain.
"Not another word. And you get to live. Otherwise, you die, and I've no promises you'd come back," it lets the man into a Spire-top abode.
He makes a show of rolling his eyes, worming out of Veils hand to look around. Is this its bedroom? There was no bed, and the whole room is dark, no light. Dark, thick drapes are pulled closed over the windows. It takes his eyes a moment to adjust. Neat piles of fabric are everywhere, a desk piled with paper and office supplies. Another table covered in half sewn clothing. He at least wants to ask where he sleeps but dutifully keeps his mouth shut.
Veils takes advantage of the moment. Emil flies forward without warning, slamming painfully into one of the hard walls of the Bazaar. He hisses breathlessly, wind knocked out of him. He turns to glare, mouth opened to snap back a retort. But Veils is faster, jamming silk against Emil's lips. He doesn't struggle but he also doesn't make it any easier. Veils is strong enough it doesn't matter. His jaw is pried open, black silk forced against his tongue. It has a strange taste to it – bitter, but with a tinge of addictive sweetness. He can't help but draw his tongue across the silk, trying to place the taste. Absinthe? Blood?
"To be sure." Veils snarls.
He doesn't struggle besides to reach out and tug off Veils' hood, just to maintain eye contact. It heaves a sharp hiss as it is revealed, fangs shining and eyes wild. Beastial, more so than the first time they met like this. More Vake than Veils.
"I will give you a death worse than his–!" It snarls, grabbing the offending hand and pinning it. Emil immediately knows it's a lie, a conflicting emotion flashes past Veils' eyes before it all at once is gone.
He gives a huff. So dramatic. He presses himself up against Veils, not so subtly rocking his hips. Being able to see his face has just made him wetter.
"Is this all that's left of you? Useless need?" It growls. It wasn't clear who it is speaking to. Or if it wanted the man to reply genuinely or not. He glares, jaw clenched around his gag. He reaches up with his free hand and grabs Veils horns, tugging it down. And headbutts it right in the face. The answer he hopes is obvious: there's plenty of rage too.
And stupidity he guesses.
He's going to get himself killed. Hopefully fucked first but he may have just ruined that. Maybe Veils is into angry sex? On the other hand, if it hates Emil enough, it could end Emil with one swift motion. But for now, it did not. Not all the way. The headbutt did infuriate it, however. Bad enough that it tore a glove free and dug claws sharply into the man's stomach. He'd come back from that, but it ensured he'd die.
He curses in pain, most of the noise muffled and he twists away, dizzy. He definitely wishes he could spit out some remark now, but settles for scowling and fisting his hand into Veils' robes. He's unsure whether to try and pull it closer or shove it away, so he just tugs at the clothing, clawing at the wings under it.
And the monstrous bat replies in turn, twisting claws and dragging lines of gore through Emil's torso. Emil feels cold as the blood poured from him, and colder still as the Master tore at Emil's clothing, exposing his legs to the air. He whines weakly, arching up to press his body as firmly to Veils as he can, attempting to hook a leg around its torso. He wonders if Veils will ever regrets. He wonders if it will. Right now he can't tell pain from pleasure anymore.
Veils regrets everything. Even this. That thought rings in his head. But it hardly felt in control at the moment. It tears its own robe aside, and in a swift, careless motion, shoves itself inside Emil. It lets out a chittering sound afterward, whine constant.
He cums near instantly when Veils enters him, a cry muffled by the silk. He may be gagged but he had one arm free, which he wraps around Veils neck, pushing his face into the Master's furry neck. He can touch it this time and a shudder runs down his body, gripping him as hard as he can. He's mostly useless from the intensity of everything but he tries to rock his hips as he nuzzles Veils' neck.
"Already?!" It snarls, jerking hips forward again, slamming the man up against the wall, making Emil's head spin. Or was that the blood loss? "Pathetic! Worth less than nothing!"
He lets out a hoarse whine, clinging to Veils, fingers running through its fur. He can't help but laugh weakly, grinding himself against Veils. If it thinks it's over just because he came, Veils is very wrong. Emil is nothing if not determined. Veils continues to ram Emil, using his body, supposedly, for its pleasure alone. It didn't care if its partner – did it really consider Emil a partner? – is overstimulated.
And oh, it's a feedback loop, Emil realizes in a daze. The two way process of the Absinthe. They can each feel the other's pleasure, hear the thoughts. If Emil closes his eyes he can almost see through Veils' eyes. It gasps at that, the invasion.
"Filthy, useless runt –" That word. It sparks a thousand emotions of anguish and arousal that spreads through both of them like a fire.
His head spins, shuddering with a whimper. His cunt clenches from the word and he doesn't even know why it makes him so hot. His legs shake around Veils waist and he just wants to say something and he doesn't even know what. Tell Veils he loves him? Tell him to fuck off? Beg for mercy? Beg for more? He feels like he is drowning in all the emotions.
One of himself can't even figure out his emotions. But all of these competing emotions from... Someone else? From himself? Emil can't think straight.
"Useless... Pathetic... Only useful as a warm place to take my heat out on!" Veils grunts. "You. You deserve to die, I..." Its words grow more frantic as it nears orgasm, and it is clear it isn't going to permanently kill Emil. It loves this too much. Perhaps the forbidden nature is part of it.
He whines, each thrust drawing him closer to a second release. Hearing Veils rant only makes his ego swell. Veils can suffer too. As long as Emil isn't the only one who feels like he's going crazy. Especially crazy for wanting to be filled by Master cum. He moans just at the thought, practically humping Veils even though he's literally bleeding out.
His head is starting to feel light. Useless. Nearly gone. His light is going out– he is a candle, being snuffed by the lack of blood– Veils jams Emil up against a wall, snarling as it's cock pumps foreign cum into its quarry. It is enough to induce death and orgasm both.
Being fucked to death wasn't too bad. Seeing as he got to cum twice out of the deal. Can't imagine how much that sucks for Veils, though. Would it just toss his body out? Unfortunate. Bleeding to death is a lot like falling asleep, he thinks, blinking his eyes open slowly.
He had been dropped in a random alley in Spite. So naturally, he had been robbed. But otherwise, alive again! So that is good.
He has a lot of questions but most of them just revolve around if Veils was nice enough to redress him or if he's been laying in this alley covered in cum for god knows how long. A quick assessment shows it had been considerate enough to dress him. Although his pants are still ripped and he's covered in blood and… other fluids.
Either way he makes his way back home, wincing with each step. Fucking something so big cannot be healthy for him.
(Never mind the death part.)
He just wants to sleep now. And tear apart his house and see if his Absinthe is there because if it was with the shit that got stolen he's going to be beyond pissed.
He finds the bottle placed obviously in his home. The absinthe wasn't stolen by urchins or bums, but by Veils itself. A show that his house had been rudely intruded on. Veils... broke into his house to return his horrible blood-wine but didn't bring him back home? Asshole. What else did it snoop around in? He freezes and immediately goes to make sure his candles are still in their spots.
They are there, somehow or another. They didn't look moved at all. Did Veils somehow miss them through sheer luck? Or did it choose not to move them? A few other things had been moved around, including his clothing gone through. A new pair of trousers are laid on top of his dresser for him. Once again, expensive and handmade.
Who's soft now?
(You are both hurting yourselves. Stop this madness.)
Chapter 8: Red as Roses
No defense could stop your ways. Deep within you permeate.
Emil doesn't feel like telling the well about Veils when he visits the Isle next. He had been avoiding it, to be honest. He is scared of the emotions he feels. He doesn't know where his end and Eaten's begin. But he knows one terrifying truth.
He loves Mr Veils.
He wonders if he should back up, end this mess. Veils doesn't love him, it loves what he's seeking. And that's the worst part. Emil is jealous of a dead and forgotten Master. He feels bad about it, unsure about his path and his promises.
But then it all loops back to something else. To what he would do to make Veils happy. He wants Veils happy, more than anything.
Emil realizes he's been walking in circles around the well for god knows how long. He's worn a path in the grass. He closes his eyes and takes a step back. When he opens his eyes, they are drawn to the edge of the island. A shape? A light? Or just a feeling? He moves towards it.
There is no lighthouse, since no ships come here. There is no lighthouse. But perhaps it will open for him. The air smells like camphor, blood, and crushed ice. Dealing with what isn't there is something he's become rather familiar with, he guesses. So he climbs the stairs that may or may not be there, to the top. Emil does not feel a striking sense of familiarity upon entering, and he does not feel like he's returned to his old grounds. He doesn't run his hands along the Correspondence that marks the edges, and he doesn't feel pulses of recollection in his mind.
And yet, he is here, in his old grounds. In his old... home. He remembers standing at the top, looking out across the water.
Horrible scratches mark the walls. Alone . Runt .
Others, his plans. Attention to a scheme . A plan to come back.
A plan to be imprinted upon the world, and be remembered. And here you are.
Just a few more candles.
In this place that is Parabola, Wilderness, and Neath, you will be remembered.
Even if only by the Masters, and one poor bounty hunter. Or perhaps, he only imagined it.
His throat feels tight, his legs shake. He blinks, eyes burning, only to realize he's crying. He wipes his face on his sleeves and takes a breath. This solidifies his resolve. He would help, even if it meant giving himself up.
"Thank you," he mumbles.
At that point, it didn't feel like giving himself up. It felt like becoming himself.
Once outside of the not-lighthouse, he pauses to run his hands over the stone of the well. "A little while longer," he promises again before returning to the boat. There's no doubt anymore, not even towards his emotions. He doesn't care where they come from, they're his, even if he's not really his own anymore.
He had embraced not. So he gained no candle.
Four. Only three left.
Chapter 9: Red as Remembrance
You rearrange my reasoning, until you're all that I can see.
That damned cat is perched on a wall, watching Emil head towards the well. He had woken up to it sitting on chest nights in a row. It stole his food, turned its nose up at rats, and made his skin itch.
He tilts his head to the side, eyes narrowed at the cat. "What?" He asks simply, irritated. "Are you here to help or hinder?"
It licks a paw. "I'm the only reason you're this far," it corrects, quite amused.
He deflates, lets his shoulders fall. "Thank you," he mumbles, "Looking for repayment then?"
"Oh, no. Just looking to see the fruits of my labor," it teases.
"Fruits of your labor? Do you do this to people often?" He snorts, a hint of jealousy In his tone. He shifts slightly, trying to ignore his emotions. He's quickly found out that the idea of other Seekers makes him strangely possessive. He needs to be the one to do this.
"... Never this far," it admits quietly.
"I seem to be hearing that a lot," he replies, "I'm going to well. Are you coming with then? You can sit on my shoulder if you want, I guess. Beats walking." He has a feeling this cat knows a lot, just like Veils. Wouldn't hurt to befriend it. Also less likely to kill him than Veils.
"No!" It hisses, "I'll walk alongside, it corrects itself after a moment, surprised Emil is being so kind to it. It would follow to the well, a twisted giddiness in its heart.
The reaction makes him chuckle. "Fine, fine, forget I even asked." It's nice to have some company on the walk but he finds himself anxious to get to the well the closer they get. He nearly trips of debris before he is finally leaning over it. "Veils is a mess," he says, unsure if it's to the cat or the well. He removes the silk around his neck, giving the fabric a final pet before he drops it. "I think he wants to forget more than anyone. Don't worry, though, I'll make sure everyone remembers."
"You're more determined than anyone," the cat complements, "And stupider. He'll kill you a dozen more times, if it means escaping the Neath."
Emil just hums, "Probably," he agrees, "But I'll take that risk if it means an end to all this," he motions to the well, then to the collar around the cats neck. "He was your owner, correct? That's what piece you have in this. You still wear that. To remember."
"You know. How? He was washed out in irrigo," the cat growls, "I even forget him from time to time. When I'm full. How are you able to just... Know?!" It demands, sounding a touch jealous, but more so suspicious. Cats are hoarders of secrets. How had a stupid bounty hunter surpassed it?
"I've been to the island," he replies simply, voice soft. "Sometimes I hear him," he shrugs, leaning against the well. "I don't know why, but he... Expected me? I guess. He has a plan for me," he glances into the well before turning away.
"He doesn't exist. He's dead in a way only a being so high up on the Chain can die," it counters, "I've been to Parabola. He isn't there either."
"I'll make him exist again. I'll climb the Chain with my own bloody hands and give myself up for him," he hisses back, determined probably to the point of madness. "He needs me and he has a plan. I just... I just need the rest of the candles."
"Careful about that word. Don't want the Masters upon you. Even Wines is willing to kill to keep you – keep him gone," the cat warns. But it is relaxed now. Purring even.
Even accidental, the slip up makes Emil smile. "You're right. I have enough Masters 'upon' me with Veils."
"It killed my Master," the cat hisses again. It seems prone to do that. Before it makes a scene like its hacking up a hairball at that implication. Perhaps it already knew what Veils and Emil had been doing. Although the dramatic reaction does give it some kind of revelation. "Wait. Veils. Veils' silk was the important thing you're willing to drop into the well?"
Emil realizes, only then, that he'd been holding a candle ever since he dropped the silk. He ignores the cat for a moment to examine the candle. He holds it carefully, stroking the wax. Two more then. "What... Exactly was their relationship? Do you know?" He starts, "Veils acts... Strange around me. And I feel like a disaster around him."
"You seem to know better than I," it smarms, "Lovers for a spell. The destructive sort of love that only works between the Masters. Then, a supposed meeting to rekindle love."
Emil knows how that ended. It is how it always ends with Veils. True to character even now.
"... that only works between Masters," he repeats and it hurts in a way that he hates. He bites his lip, clutching the candle close as he returns home. He regrets asking.
Chapter 10: Black as Ink
You're all there could be.
Two more. He’s so close he wakes up tasting the cold of the North and so cold it burns.
A book of prayers and a map to the Chapel of Lights. Emil knows this is the point of no return. He's not stealthy enough to steal a boat and too poor to buy one. But luck is always on his side when it comes to him making bad decisions. Spices had a shipment of Honey go missing at sea. And after flaunting his skills, Spices gives him a ship and a crew.
Which he immediately damns.
He doesn't anticipate returning. He's too busy making sure everything in set in place that he doesn't see the large hooded figure sneak onto his ship. He's not a captain, but he builds enough trust after a few days that he convinces the crew to stop at the Chapel. He tells his crew to stay put and steps out onto solid ground. A line of candles lead up the path. It feels like coming home.
And inside the chapel, they are having a sermon. About betrayal. About what it means to hurt someone. About how the first betrayal was simply knowing it. Emil bites his lip. Of course. He can't escape anything that reminds him of Veils can he. Anything for its own freedom, wasn't it? They had been lovers and still Veils–
He stays in the back, focused on keeping calm as he listens. He knows there will be seven sermons and he makes himself at home among the pews and the candles. The Priest looks at Emil like he knows. Each one takes a bit longer. Each one takes a bit more out of Emil. His mouth feels like wax, during the first. The second, he feels like a fish on a hook – and his lip stings for ages afterward. On the third, he learns of the three descents.
(And he fell asleep in my lap. It was cute.)
He is tired but he pays attention, absorbing the words. He completely forgets the outside world. This is more important. He's been working so hard and he feels so close to the end. He's calmer now, than before, feeling like this is where he needs to be. For now.
The fourth is Emil's favorite candle. It is when he gave up everything. Irrigo light fills the chapel. There is no sermon. No one speaks about the fury of the Flukes and the cold machinations of The White. And no eyeless being stands at the front, telling him of it all. And Emil didn't agree to anything.
The fifth sermon is a blur. Commingling of choirs. There is music, he thought. He feels like he's reaching the end of his journey and he just wants to rest.
(You're doing well, dear one.)
The sixth otherwise seems normal, but something in him is incensed when the priest portrays the betrayal as a good thing.
"You know nothing of betrayal," he snaps, bristling with enough rage that he scares himself. He doesn't stop, though. "All of this could have been averted had it not been selfish," he spits the words, looking about ready to throw hands with a priest.
"Who had been selfish?" The priest asks, still smiling, as unaware as ever. Or perhaps feigning it as well as ever.
He grabs the priest by the collar, snarling, "You know who. You're the preacher. Don't tell me you're telling tales of your so called Drowned Man without knowing who the Judas of his tale is," he drops the priest and spins to face the pews, "The Betrayer was Veils!" Emil practically yells, "You're a priest. A kiss for coin. Blood for a city. You know how it goes."
With that he stalks out of the Chapel. He needs to breathe. He knows everything. And he is marching out, in a huff, with the sixth candle. He needs air. He needs to breathe. He needs...
Veils lands before him the instant he is outside, turning up to flash a look of exhaustion and frustration. He lets out a small squeak of shock, quickly swallowing the noise down.
"Speak of the devil," he hisses, trying to seem calm.
"Do you have any idea what you are doing?" it demands immediately, voice sounding as tired as Emil feels.
"Of course," he snaps back just as fast. "I've made it this far, haven't I? I'll fix your mistake, since you don't have the balls to do it yourself."
"What will you do? Flood the Neath with light? Kill us all?" It growls bitterly, "To collect a debt against all of us?"
He flinches then, torn somewhere between Eaten and Candles. The bitterness in its voice takes him off guard. "I want to kill the very stars that damn us. So this won't happen again. I want to break the chains that bind us. I– he wants to be remembered. To come back."
"... Come back? He's gone," Veils swears with confidence. He couldn't be serious. It wasn't possible.
... It wasn't.
"And if there's even a single shard of him left, what would you do?" He watches Veils closely. "You know I'm special. You know I'm close. Why, really, are you here? Why are you so insistent on stopping me if you think I won't achieve anything?"
"I'm not going to stop you," it answers, "I don't even know if I could, now. Go on. Just... Let me talk to you, when you return here." Its voice holds the slightest betrayal of begging. Desperation.
Emil stares at Veils. And shoves past with his sixth candle.
Right here beneath this cold, indifferent show. A silent invasion I'm too weak to control.
Just one more. The impossible candle. The candle no one can acquire. He looks over his six candles, feels the rock of the boat. His crew had fled yet he didn't feel alone, though, for once.
(You have a lot to do. But you won't stop now, will you?)
"Of course not," he mumbles in reply. That should be obvious. He won't stop, can't maybe, but it doesn't matter. This is his destiny, the only thing in life that had ever felt like his own. Even if in the long run it meant losing himself. He feels so close, but at the same time never farther away. He's obviously on edge and tense. And being trapped on a boat didn't help at all. Too confined.
(There will be nothing left of us, you know.)
He laughs softly. Hysterical maybe. "What is left of either of us anyway? Even if I could go back, it wouldn't fix anything. He would still be dead, Veils would still be broody, the Bazaar would still hide and the Stars would still force everything to bow. We have a chance to change that. I would rather lose myself trying than die as a slave."
(There's more of you than you think.) She corrects. (That passion. You're not resigned to your fate... You're stronger than ever because of it.)
Is she concerned?
"He had passion, too," Emil persists. Passion in a mission, in the Stars, in the good of people and now, in a new goal. A runt always goes against the Chain in the end, doesn't it? "Snuffed out too soon. The best of them, if I had any say in it. You heard what I said to Veils. If there is even a chance I can give him peace, I will."
(I met him, once. You sound just like him. Will we give him true peace...?) She wonders. Or would it be more?
Emil steps out of the boat. The docks whines with his weight but he makes his way back to the Chapel. As promised, Veils is there, standing between him and the door. Its form is imposing, a dark void against the light. And he can't help but think it looks magnificent, the candle-light catches just right on its eyes and horns, the slow glow of the galaxies in its fur nearly hypnotic.
"You wanted to talk?" Emil asks, standing as bravely as he could. He steps closer, looking up at Veils with a glare. "Or would you be so kind just to get out of my way?"
"I know what the last part of this is, now," it warns, before dropping its voice low, "I can't let you sacrifice yourself for this."
(It won't let you through.)
"Don't act like you care about me," he growls, "You killed him, what is more blood on your hands?"
"You want to be him," it breathes the words like admitting it is a death sentence. "He made candles. He was not a candle. Your goal will fail if you follow her plan."
(Do not listen.)
"And you know another way?" He asks. "If not, then move."
"The priest. The executioner," that tone again. Begging for Emil to listen. "I… I can give you a different transformation entirely," it offers.
He narrows his eyes, swallowing, "What kind of transformation? Tell me your plan before I agree to anything. And don't expect me to trust you like he did." He will hear Veils out at least. He's come this far. "You are to be honest with me, got it?"
"Do not order me, it quips right back, withdrawing a bottle from its cloak. It's bright red. No... The liquid inside is. "This is blood. My blood. I want you to drink it. I want to reshape you. If you're going to... Become him... I won't have you do so in the carcass of a human, reshaped into a candle," it snarls, eyes wild and desperate.
Emil blinks, heart pounding. "You... Are helping me?" He clarifies, "I would still become him? You aren't stopping me from doing that?" He's still wary but his eyes are locked on the bottle.
"If you can," it answers and then it seems to break, a crack in the facade, "Do you know how many times I've seen you? Not Emil. My old lover. Come a dozen times. Killed a dozen times. Every single one," Veils clutches its gut, hissing. "Every one reopened the wounds as they were healing. Every one, shouting that blasted phrase. A reckoning. Some– most– would kill the Bazaar and all the cities to get at me. I have postponed it. But I know as well as them that I cannot keep it up forever. If... I am to let any seeker survive, it is the one who... Reminds me..."
It couldn't keep speaking. Its head is bowed, and it's whole form shudders.
Emil reaches for the bottle, taking it, prying it gently from its claws. He places his other hand over Veils' claws, squeezes, before opening the bottle and putting it to his mouth. He's not sure if it took any effort to get this much blood, but still he treats it like a gift. Veils flinched away at first, but after a moment, it slips its claws up against Emil. They're shaking. It's hard to get the blood down. And it makes his stomach twist into knots. But he finishes it, feeling a strange heat settle into his bones.
"A memory of candle making. It should be all you need," it encourages, "So, then, who will it be? The priest, or the executioner?"
"I'll surprise you," he chuckles lightly, swallowing before asking, "Take me North, then? See the Horizon open with me?"
"It's all I've wanted. For millennia," Veils sighs, throat tight. "Once we have the candle, we go north. Together."
(Where has your hate gone? Your grief? I gave myself for him...)
He nods, headbutting him softly before skirting around him.
One last candle.
He has plenty of hate and grief, he thinks, but that's not for Veils. That's for those who made Veils this way. The suns and their laws. He's done trusting blindly, but the lower members of the Chain won't suffer for the commands of the higher.
Inside is the priest, who looks quite happy. Until the Master enters. "Everyone–!" he warns, trying to spur a panicked retreat. Instead, though, they watch hungrily.
Emil closes his eyes, recalls how to make candles, and then looks straight at the priest. "Just need the last candle. And my dear friend here is going to help. Did you know candles are made from fat? Not much good fat in a human, especially you lot, but I'll make due," he nods at Veils. Can't dirty his own hands if he has to meld the tallow into a candle. Tallow candles already smell horrible without added blood.
"But– " he starts, but Veils is already on him. With a single motion, it slams the priest onto the altar. Emil is almost giddy, nodding up at the executioner as Veils holds the priest down. He would love to give Veils a hunt, but he doesn't want to risk losing too much of the body.
"Thank you for your service," he says to the priest, "But your sermons won't be needed anymore."
It takes the priest a moment, before he nods. He accepts it. This is his story – brought to a close with the swing of the executioner's axe.
Emil's hands glide with practiced precision. Insertion of the wick. The slow solidification of the wax. This is familiar. This is... what he would do to relax. When he was frustrated. When he was stressed. This is familiar.
And finally, there is a candle.
Next chapter is the last and so heres my reminder to please look at the tags 'cause the whole body horror and transformation shit? yeah.
Chapter 12: Black as Stars
The slow devour takes me again.
(And here you are.)
"Just a short flight north. But we still have work to do. Come here," Veils advises, leading Emil back towards his ship. He follows, a bit shaky as if drunk. His skin feels too tight.
Veils leads him down into the bowels of the ship, where it had set up shop. Supplies are littered around a large table, both mundane and eldrich in nature. Amber, cloth, thread, vials Emil can't even begin to identify the contents of.
"I'm not that familiar with the art of reshaping flesh," it warns, "But... you will be a Master again."
It sounds terrified of that.
"As long as you are certain it will work," he says. The very basics of reshaping is all he remembers and Veils at least knows that much given the blood. That should be enough Vital Essence that with... Encouragement a change would take hold. Like the Flukes and the Rubbery Men. Hopefully he will look much better than that... He lets out a breath he didn't realize he was holding. "I'm ready." He reaches out to Veils, wanting some reassurance. "Please don't... Betray me again."
"Never again," it swears, brushing a claw across his jaw.
Emil has read that the flesh and blood of the Masters is intoxicating, transcendent in some cases. And he's become intimately aware of this with Black Wings Absinthe. Amber is passed between various people, creatures, and all of the above in order to absorb the Vital Essences of those who hold it. From there it can be used in Shapeling Arts. This is… more complicated. He has consumed something greater than himself, now he will either incorporate it or it will incorporate him .
The boat rocks softly, like a cradle. Emil does not sleep. Veils is slow and deliberate as it begins. There's a softness to the way it strips him, like he is delicate and special. It handles Emil with care, helping him onto the table and easing him to lay face down. It folds a pile of fabrics up to lay under his head.
They do not exchange words. Veils places a hand on his back, traces his spine and measures his arms. Various oils are rubbed over his skin until it feels too loose and too tight all at once. Like it's attempting to pull away from his skeleton. It makes calculated incisions with its claws, easing flesh from muscle like one would skin a deer. Veils does not understand how to grow wings, so it prompts them to get started with manual intervention to make up for its lack of experience in these Arts.
There's something intimate about it. His flesh spreading to Veils' claws. A sort of trust he thought he would never have again. Veils rebuilding what it had destroyed. A redemption, perhaps.
Then it pulls his skin. Thread and claws trying to shape wings, connecting the skin peeled from his back to his arms. It's a long and painful process, Veils operating with no painkillers or laudanum. Emil isn't sure how he doesn't pass out or scream. Rumor has it the Starved Men find pleasure in these rituals. He tastes blood and bile as his body rebels but every time he thinks he may faint, a strange white-hot pleasure washes over him. Emil would rather blame it on adrenaline but maybe the Starved Men are right.
Emil wonders if this is what it feels like to be skinned and eaten.
Still, though, his skin stretches easily. Veils is true to its character with talented claws cutting and suturing, even when the blood makes it slip messily. Needlework elegant and straight. There is not enough skin to replace what was used to make the wings, so Veils burns a candle for wax. The smell is comforting to both of them. The wax fills in against his spine and it wraps him up in silk, new wings and arms carefully covered.
Veils occasionally, like clockwork, lifts Emil's head and has him drink something. He can't tell what at first, everything tastes like wax. But he catches Veils pressing a claw to its own wrist, dripping the blood into the same cup he has him drink from. Whether it's to help the change or to keep him from dying of blood loss, he doesn't know.
It's messy and wrong but it's done by Veils' hands. There is no sequence for such things, to ascend the Chain is to go against it. One may fall, but never rise. Hours pass, perhaps days, until finally Emil is left as an abomination of silk, wax, flesh and blood. It will do. It has to.
"If you can stand, just long enough to knock..." Veils begs quietly, tying a series of tight silks around him to hold him together. It lifts Emil carefully, attaching him to a strange harness around its chest.
And then, they are flying north.
The cold is horrid, made worse by exposed muscle and bone. He fists his hands into the Master's fur and presses his face close for warmth. It's agony and Emil nearly does pass out then, until he becomes aware of a rumbling coming from Veils. He feels it first, then strains to hear past the rushing wind.
Veils is singing. A low sound in a language he can't place but it makes him think of stars. He thinks its a story of travelers, exiles. He thinks its about returning home.
They're flying close to the water, ice collecting on both of them. Then, he feels Veils slow and then land. It frees Emil from the harness and gently sets him down onto the snow and ice. Emil clings to its arm for support, shivering. His vision is blurred with pain but he looks up. The door to the Avid Horizon stretches high above them, the two winged guardians almost look like Masters. It feels like coming home. Here, he can see the stars, the real ones.
Veils is stiff, watching Emil, not the stars. It won’t look at the Horizon.
(Knock, and ask.)
He balls a fist up and knocks. Seven times seven. The cold freezes and shatters his hand, held together only together with cloth and thread. And he asks, voice hoarse but it doesn't falter even once.
"How can he return?"
It doesn’t open like a gate, Emil realizes, breath caught in his throat. It doesn’t move but light rushes, blazes across its surface. It’s bright enough he feels his skin burn, his vision goes next. But then the memories come, not his. Candles’ memories flood him, filling his lungs like well-water. He’s drowning in them and the light. It’s then that skin melts away, pulls, expands.
Emil is no more, and yet Emil is stronger than ever.
Like a dense star, the small shadow against the light bloats and swells, growing and rising up. A skeleton peels out of Emil’s skin, muscles and flesh spreading across it like blooming flowers. Fur comes next, white and shimmering like the ice. The being before the door knew Emil, knew what he has done, but it had been a play it watched unfold, just like wings unfurl from its back. The light puts pressure, so much pressure, on each part of the facsimile body, breathing life and light into what had been false. It’s painful, a rippling swelling, but that pain is quickly swept away with tears of recollection. Then tears of awe.
Veils had kept its promise. Veils had fixed it – had atoned.
And now Veils is on its knees, staring at the figure in front of it. A figure so familiar that Veils finds itself shaking. “It’s...over…” Veils whispers, voice hoarse.
Only then does Candles stumble forward, flexes claws experimentally. It gasps for air like it’s the first real breath in forever. It nearly falls, using its wings to catch itself, shakily extending them. “No,” it replies, “Not over but–” it looks back at the light. It fades to a slow burn, the stars through the door pulsing with rage. Candles reaches out to tug Veils up. The Horizon is open. The Judgements can see. They will come soon. “Take me home.”
"Home where?" It asks, "The Bazaar?" It sounds... apprehensive. That is no home of its. Its eyes flick to the Horizon before back down to Candles. "You're not wrong, of course." Veils reaches out shakily, a claw brushing over Candles’ face. Petting its ears, smoothing frozen fur.
"The Bazaar, yes. If they are to come, I would warn our employer and our friends. The Courier will be found guilty, you know. We will be punished as well. But our contract will be broken,” it reaches out to touch Veils' face, perhaps not believing this is real. "You have more scars. Hunting?"
“More than you can imagine,” Veils admits breathlessly. “What then? After?”
“We return to the skies, of course. Together.”
“And your revenge?”
Candles laughs and there's something sinister to it. “A reckoning will not be postponed indefinitely,” it chirps the words almost excitedly, “I will drown the stars in time. Let me learn to live again first.”