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Oaths and Monsters

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“We had an agreement… you and I, the terms were simple.  I would, with strict controls, set the dark to menace those outside your favor.  How many have died?”

“Dissidents, all of them!  Liars, and pariah, and venomous malcontents-“

The rebuttal ended in a croak as the insubstantial pressed against the barrier of plausibility and became reality.  Shadows thickened into a noose.  Their owner, as dark as his tools, did not stand out, save for a flash of silver that served in lue of a smile.

“It’s curious… with the worlds all open to me… what one can see.  I don’t have to be in one place to know what’s happening…  Wherever there is the barest skein of shade, I can be…”

XXX

It had fallen apart so spectacularly.

Never mind the slowness of it all, the final rush at the end, before the end, that coherent span before the collapse, poised on the tip of catastrophe the encounter hung.

They’d thought it was the end, the tipping point.  Thus armed with such declarations they pounded up the steps that had once been familiar, welcome.  All gold and glowing, armor artfully dented, faces plainly harried.  They marched up those familiar steps thinking they belonged.

Never mind the properties change of hands.

It was an odd house now.  Even as they pressed past the threshold they knew, as those always enamored of their own opinion must, that there was strangeness here.  The house was dim, would be no matter when they visited.  Neighbors and the well-meaning whispered of sketchy illumination in each room, that how every night the dark was let in, and each day it’s windows were sealed with shutters and drapes.

Such was distasteful, never mind it was an expression of grief, considering what they fought… Once they passed the threshold the general nodded to his men.  No words needed, they spread out, tearing down the grey and black shrouds and letting the sunlight in.

To that she came.  Belated, and irate, but she’s slipped out from the higher levels where no guest would dare intrude without consent. She ghosted down the stairwell, into the receiving area, and the General checked a grimace at her lack of proper military pace.  Bad manners aside, there were lines never crossed in proper society, so the General and his men while vandalizing (all for her own good) the main entry way, letting blessed light to skew the gloom, they would not ascend.  No she would have to descend, and the ruckus guaranteed she would come where they were gathered.

“What is the meaning of this?”

She looked tired, he noted.  Tired and worn.  The tan of her skin dulled by too much time indoors, glooming had stolen the glow not only of her skin, but of her eyes. Still there was authority to her voice, a firm grim edge that was suited to her place in the larger world.

“Lady Pitchner,” He bowed, after all he was there to serve.  “We were sent here by his majes-“

“Get out.”

To such bite he stiffened, looking at her.  Trying not to see…  His face, his features, his hellish stubbornness, all of him in the woman who he’d left behind to bear his name, his legacy.

“Such trappings… such darkness… does not suit you.”

“Am I not allowed to grieve?”

“Grieving…”

“While not a prevue of the military, it is a fallacy allowed by the civilian population.”  Lady Pitchner strode across the dark blue rug soundlessly, until she stood before him.  The new General answered the woman’s audacity with silence and a stony façade.  And to his lack of motion, or the calling off of his men, she stood.  Unflinching though a loud clatter assured something had broken; the tink-a-link alluded to the breakage being glass.  A window, or so the hiss of breeze seeping through the crevice confirmed and affirmed.  Still, she didn’t start, a promising start, she seemed engrossed in tracing the patterns on his armor with her regard,

Idle, the thought came, he must look like her father, with his golden helm and face guard on.  Ruthlessly the new General squashed that thought.

There was a taint of treason to the whole.

“I am a civilian.”  Lady Pitchner hissed.  “And it is your job to protect civilians, via duty on the front lines and civil services when away from the battlefield.”

Something was torn, a thud, muffled by cloth, a curtain rod and its light blocking drape had been felled.  Such had been their orders, excise the dark, and force her to see reason.  Sunlight was streaming in, reluctant gold to reveal a glory of star hued white and luna mined silver.  She grimaced at the ingress, looked at him fair features twisted foul.

“How sternly you uphold your duty.”

Of the two she seemed to be the more reasonable.

And though the last was wholly treasonous he couldn’t banish it.

“My duty, lady, isn’t complete.  Will you come, take your proper place?”

“No.”

He drew his sword, and there was no shock to her gaze, no fear, only a dull realization that now was the time of her death.

And he remembered…

The General babbling about how warm, how friendly, how alive his daughter was.  How though hardly stiff and straight and adhering to formation (a soldier’s only love) there was something to be said of her tender willies, bright smiles, and as she grew older her disordered charms only grew in his eyes.  And perhaps not just in his eyes.  For there had been a few men about who’d tried to woo her, and met the bite of her father’s ire as a rebuff when they couldn’t pass muster. The flat of his scythe had been employed when one ardent suitor hadn’t gotten the subtle hint of a dressing down at full voice.

And though it had caused a scandal, his adoration, his viciousness such brought, he was too valuable to properly rebuke.  Their stalwart solider, strategies flawless against the dark, their hopes had been slung about his shoulders and he hadn’t broken like those before…  So what scandal his passions had unleashed had been muffled.   The evidence of such had been destroyed.

He wondered how they would destroy such evidence of what was to come.

One word, and order, and the destruction stopped.  One motion and his blade sunk home, drag up, one twist…

It wasn’t like killing darklings.  There wasn’t blood when killing the fey.  This… with this there was red rush, and a vile smell of innards exposed, and the lingering sense of “this could be wrong”.

The body fell with a thump.  She’d died as she lived. Traitorous, silent, resolute.  Maimed but whole, it was all the mercy he could afford her, to spare those features a disfigurement so that those few who might care for her would recognize the body.

Turning about, red cloak snapping, golden armor made luminous by the suns rising rays, he grunted at the glare.

“Move out.”

XX

“If you thought, just for one moment, that I would not notice you are madder than they made me.”

So hissed the beast, the dark that stole light.  The shadows tightened their grip, there was nothing organic to the touch, nothing of pulse of fingers, or warmth, it was a grip without tactile sensation save that which it denied.  He croaked, groped for hands that weren’t, scratching his own skin as he tried, and failed, to gain some slack.

“Oh, Tsar… My liege, my lord, my oldest friend…. We’ve been in this for so long…  So let’s forgo formalities in this little dispute between us two?”  The voice crooned into the curl of his ear.

As his vision greyed, all he could hear was the hammering of his old heart, still past it’s thunder he pushed out one word.  Throwing down pride and facades of power, he begged.

“Mercy.”

There was some slack.  A loosening even as the fangs drew nearer, snapping at the very tip of his nose.

“You.”  That scentless, heatless voice hissed. “Would beg me mercy?  After the death of my own daughter, within our home, by the hand of your guard… You would have such audacity!”

“Swor- erk”

“Monsters are not held to oaths, Tsar.”

“Please,” Some slack must have been garnered due to flagging attention, the silver dimmed as the smile thinned to a frown. “we could bring her back… as…”

“As some servant, some slave, never mind the pretty title, you’d make it demeaning.  She was a traitor, refusing to follow, and orders are orders.”  A whimper, attention regrouped the grip came back and acquired something o and edge if the cuts spawning on the man’s neck were anything to go by.   “I’m well aware your little pet project and the fact that it’s in its inception stage. “

The body lifted as the dark drew it higher.  To the outsider there would only be sense of stillness broken, the room was that dark.  A mere closet tucked in a hall between some important here and there.  But since, since after, the Tsar and his shadowy associate could hardly meet out in the open.  So a compromise of sorts had been indulged.

More gurgle than syllable, the man tried and failed to get the last word.  A snap and telling stillness after warned the knowledgeable that there were no more coming.

To those not so knowing… well a monster could make a compromise of his own.

With a flick of his hand he set the carrion out from the dark. Through the doors that had been sealed with an order and a lock.  Wood splintered under the force of the throw, and dark pealed out from its place to brave the blazing night of day.

The dark was armed with a scythe, so the guards who’d rushed to investigate the noise would say.  It had a face of a fallen hero, and its steps left stuff that sizzled.  Substance from night that burned under the day.  That and the disfigured corpse of a king were all it left in its wake.

That and nightmares for those who’d seen it it’s coming, it’s killing…

Nightmare that would follow them for the rest of their lives.