I love Halloween. It’s basically the time of year when little kids transform into little candy extortionists. They go door to door trading veiled threats for fun-sized snicker bars. What could be better?
I have boatloads of fun memories regarding the Pumpkin laden holiday, as it was always a holiday of serious business during my hay-day. A good friend of mine at the time would map out our hometown. We learned from the past years of what houses gave out apples, toothbrushes and pennies and circled those that passed out handfuls of the good stuff or dollar bills (cha-ching!) rather than the dreaded mystery ‘caramels’ wrapped in orange and black paper.
These days kids have it easy. They can go to a street-view and literally plan their war plans with pinpoint accuracy. They could even identify warning signs of stingy old men waving canes, chanting mantras of get off my lawn. Pencils and papers are quickly becoming relics of the past. They could probably bust out a smart phone and have it bark out walking directions into an earbud.
Ah… the things I could have accomplished with such items in 1989. Note to self: Develop time machine and send myself an android phone.
I wanted to take a moment to thank all the people that have followed MoD since it’s slipshod launch. It took a while to meet my stride but here I am, twice a week posting and the finishing touches of my first Novel, The Two Destroyers being done simultaneously.
I cannot stress how much writing these little gems have aided me on this journey. Also the people that have bumped that little follow button. This is the 20th original short story interrupted by the occasional novel related ones. I’m really interested to hear from you, my valued audience and let me know what I’m doing right, doing wrong, or what you want to see here.
I started doing this blog for myself, to learn and grow as a writer. I ended up finding it easy to drive forward after seeing like stars pop up on that lovely grey bar. I launched the site last year. 09/22/2011 to be exact, but it wasn’t until February of this year before I started to turn the wheels.
From the bottom of my heart, thank you. It’s just a little corner of the internet, with a little more than 1,000 hits total.
You guys have been ‘trick or treating’ here with me for months from my digital candy dish. And I really hope my ‘candy’ is more dollar bills than pennies for you.
In celebration of Halloween, Memories of a Dimanagul will be having short stories starring Nell and Culvir, the undead hunting duo for the next few weeks. Some may be spooky, humorous, and some tear-jerking. On Halloween itself I’ll be doing an extra mid week short story bringing the total of five subsequent parts to the Mini-Series.
Sit back (or stand up. I hear aerobic blog reading is in these days) and enjoy.
Hunters, Part 2
Nell watched the sun rise over Terragrecio forest, it signaled the end of her duties as a hunter. Another night survived. She clutched her arch-wand close to her heart and whispered a small prayer of thanks. Culvir had perched himself in the trees while Nell stayed close to the ground.
Culvir landed gracefully behind her, straightened, and rolled a stiff shoulder. “Two vampires and a dozen zombies… what a quiet night.”
“It makes me nervous. Do you think Okeer was wrong?”
“No,” Culvir said, “His information is sound. When you’re this close to the heart it’s going to be quiet. We’re just sitting in the storm’s eye.”
Nell lowered her eyes. That made sense. Wisp fluttered to her side and flickered wearily. It always mirrored her fatigue; the night couldn’t have ended sooner. She held out a hand and let the flame land gently. She felt it’s warmth, Wisp could never burn her, only bring her comfort. No flame would ever betray her.
“What’s with you and that thing?” Culvir peered at it with scrutiny.
“Ah… it’s complicated.” Nell said timidly, a warm blush came to her cheeks. “Wisp is the first thing I ever created with magic. He’s like a friend.”
“IT… is a fireball. You shouldn’t get attached to imaginary friends.”
“Well I know that,” Nell closed her hand and Wisp vanished. “Wisp is different— he has a soul just like any living person.”
“It’s not a ghost is it?” Culvir’s lip curled into a sneer. “You realize if he possesses you its all over. Then we’d not only be out a talented hunter, but we’d also have gained a powerful foe.”
“That won’t be a problem, even if he was a ghost. I’m not even sure if he’s a fire spirit. He just… helps me.” Nell gestured towards town. “Can we go back and secure lodgings? I don’t want to sleep in the forest tonight.
Culvir looked away and nodded once. “I agree.”
His sideways compliment burned in Nell’s ears. She smiled all the way to the city and took in the beauty of the forest. Terragrecio forest had hardly been the largest on the continent, but it proved dense and full of animals. Thinning numbers of game heralded the warning of the undead threat. Also there had been cases of missing persons; a myriad of hunters, merchants, and simple travelers.
The King’s response proved surprisingly efficient; he had required logs at checkpoints surrounding the city with estimations of return. Any of those that missed their times by twenty four hours were investigated. Twenty cases were detected through this method.
The entrance of the city was crowded by a line of people upon their arrival. Culvir ignored it pointedly and marched to the gate.
“The line forms back there, sir.” A tired eyed guard said, he kept his eyes fixed on the logs on his wooden desk.
“I’m exempt.” Culvir reached into a pocket of his armor and produced a document. “Hunter Association.”
“That doesn’t make you exempt.” The guard said lifting his eyes to him. “Hunters are just as susceptible to becoming undead as any other human. Get in line.”
Nell stepped up behind him. “It’s fine Culvir, this is helping us in the long run. Because of it, it’ll be unlikely any vampires will sneak in.”
“Ma’am,” the guard pointed with a quill. “Are you with him?”
“I am… why?”
“I’m going to have to ask you to come in the guard shack. You’re a problem.” The man set down his quill and stood. Two other men approached without provocation.
Nell grew quiet but nodded.
“What is the meaning of this?” Culvir glared behind his glasses.
“You come too, ‘Hunter’, since you’re so keen on jumping past the line— you are getting your wish. Are you resisting?”
“No,” Culvir said, “But you’ll be damned if you think you’re taking my weapons. You could be enthralled.”
“Fair enough,” The guard gestured and two more men joined the pack.
“Finally, some excitement,” one of the guards said.
Nell clutched her arch-wand close and walked in step with the guards and her partner. They surrounded them and carefully stayed out of Culvir’s reach. He seemed tense, but held his temper. They were led inside the small station silently.
The guard shack had been poorly maintained. It stunk of sweat, mold and rot. It looked like it hadn’t been used in ages and only recently commissioned for use. A row of vacant cells lined the wall. Patches of dried blood stained a banner of the city’s standard a faded green banner with a chipped gold paint image of the world tree.
Two of the guards stepped in while two guarded the door. Tense moments passed and the guard at the desk came in, paused to take off his helmet and spoke, “Take off the choker.”
Nell winced, but had no choice. She reached up the choker’s clasp and felt Culvir’s gaze. He stared intently but did not scowl. His expression stayed soft, and she could practically see his eyes filled with worry. Her insides twisted, she would only affirm his fears.
The choker came off to reveal her neck, in ruins from numerous bites. Dozens of poorly healed scars lined her neck from fang, nails and claws.
“Gods…” The guard said, he reached for his sword and the other two followed. The sound of steel leaving sheathes echoed through the room and pulsed with threat. Neither Nell nor Culvir made a move to resist them.
“She’s going to turn.” One of the guards said, “Should we kill her?”
“She’s not going to turn.” Culvir said firmly. “She can’t turn.”
Nell nodded quietly, of course he knew.
“She’s Ambrosia,” Culvir let out a noisy sigh and looked away from her.
“What…?” The guards
“Look at her neck, idiot. If she was able to turn she would have. Those wounds are old, healed, and opened again.” Culvir tightened his hands. “You’d have to be blind not to realize that.”
The three guards exchanged looks and sheathed their swords hesitantly.
“I’m sorry,” Nell said, “I just wear it to prevent panic.”
“I understand.” The head guard frowned. “Please accept my apologies and condolences, will you be in the city long?”
“Anywhere between a few days and the rest of the month” Nell replaced her choker. “If it’s not too much trouble, giving us free reign to enter and leave the city in the evening and dawn would be appreciated. We’re tracking the movements of a possible undead hub here in Terra.”
She softened her expression, during the day we can check in normally, we wouldn’t want to cause any sort of fuss.”
“No.” The head guard replaced his helmet and opened the door. “You’ll have free reign at all hours. May I have your name?”
“Nell Draadich.” She laid a hand on her chest and dipped her head cordially.
“Culvir Silverdark. And it’s good to see you’re smarter than you look. That decision likely saved dozens of lives.” He pushed past the guards and started towards the gate.
“Don’t mind him. He’s a good person, I promise.” Nell laid a hand on the guard’s arm and hurried to catch up with her partner.
The city itself remained well fortified and guards patrolled in tight shifts. Culvir led them around the entire city and counted every man he crossed paths with. He scribbled in his notebook furiously when he saw something he didn’t like, and put a neat black check at the end of a simple statement for those things he found acceptable; there were very few checks.
Nell estimated there were about five hundred men protecting Terra, not including the royal guard that stuck to the castle grounds that took up a fourth of the city’s entire area. The best protected areas were the residential areas, and among those, the slums were closely watched, with roughly a fourth of their forces watching that.
Most of Culvir’s checks came from the handling of the slums.
The poor were a particular target for the undead. They were the vampires’ primary form of sustenance and made up a large portion of their forces once enthralled and eventually turned. Enthrallment proved difficult to detect, but not impossible. Any guard trained in looking for the signs could catch the later stages of it. The early stages could be detected by simple confrontation.
Nell had been approached by no less than five guards during their patrol.
The inn they settled on, ‘The Gilded Peanut’, appeared acceptably nice and the only one with any vacancies. The undead threat had given rise to an age of mercenaries and adventurers.
“I, Bartreese, have the perfect room for you two~.” The innkeeper, a burly man with a belly like a beer-keg, maintained a pleasant air of flamboyance. His disarming nature remained offset by thick muscled arms toned from toting beer. Heavy kegs of ale were piled behind his counter, waiting to be placed in the bar.
“What about cost?” Culvir raised a brow at him.
“I give special rates for people like you. If not for young people exercising their passions Terra would be lifeless and cruel. As long as you promise not to disrupt my other customers with your work, I will give you the low-low rate.” Bartreese grinned.
“Low huh? We’re going to be here for a while. And we might be a bit noisy at times, preparation, training, that sort of thing.” Culvir rubbed his chin.
“Oh my,” the innkeeper said, “You’re professionals huh? Don’t worry the walls are very thick. As long as you don’t have any extended outbursts it should be fine.”
“Good,” Culvir said, “Shouldn’t be a problem, she’s pretty timid. I doubt her whining will make it through a sheet of paper.”
Nell fidgeted uneasily. “Umm… how much is the room exactly.”
“Five silvers a night, for the both of you.” The innkeeper pushed a hand out. “But it is a good deal! There are five rooms in the suite and it has a large bath. That includes me running hot water to your room twice a day! Such a deal.”
“That won’t be necessary. I’m a magician sir.” Nell smiled. “We just need the room.”
“Without that, the room should be only two silvers a night,” Culvir said.
“But the room is so fine…” The innkeeper frowned and thumbed his curled moustache. “…I will lower the rate to four.”
“No.” Culvir turned and started to leave. “Come on Nell, we’re sleeping under the sky today.”
“W…wait!” Bartreese thrust a hand after him. “Not so hasty. But you must see the room to understand. Four silvers is a deal. A big big deal.”
“Fine. We’ll pay two silvers and five bits,” Culvir said.
Batreese let out a noisy moan. “You are killing Batreese. I will give you service unheard of in all of Terra. You must know this!”
Nell put a hand on Culvir’s shoulder. “Four silvers a night is a fair price. It’s for the two of us after all.”
“Let me handle this. If I left it to you he would con us into ten silvers a night for pointless services like making beds and cleaning. We can do all that ourselves.” Culvir scowled.
“But look at this place Culvir. It’s nice.” She stepped in front of him and placed her hands on his cheeks. “When was the last time you stayed in such a nice inn…?”
“With a beautiful girl no less!” Batreese added.
Culvir blushed against Nell’s touch. He hesitantly brushed her hands away. “F…Fine. Look. We’ll pay three silvers for tonight. If it is as nice as you say it is, we’ll pay four from here on out. But if I so much as find a string out of place on the beds, it’s going down to two!”
“You will not be disappointed sir.” Batreese rolled his hands eagerly.
The three of them walked upstairs, the innkeeper eagerly took Nell’s bag of supplies but ended up being stared down by Culvir for the attempt. When Baltreese passed them he leaned in to whisper. “He’s going to expect a tip for that. You could have carried it yourself.”
Nell smiled softly and took his arm. “But I’m tired from a long night of hard work. Shouldn’t we conserve our energy for hunting?”
“It’s training.” Culvir yanked his arm away. “You need to toughen up.”
The two of them got to the top of the stairs and followed Batreese to the end of the hall. The door appeared slightly ajar. Nell stepped ahead of Culvir to take the first peek.
When the door opened they were hit with the gentle smell of flowers, the room, lined with furniture made of fine silk, had been any traveller’s dream. The floor was covered with shaggy hides shampooed and cured perfectly.
Nell stepped in, slack-jawed at the fine crafted stone tub with fine knitted towels lining the walls. The polished stone floors imitated marble that a king might walk on. A mere facsimile, but a well-made one. Everything inside the room stood as a functional parody of opulence.
A blush came to her cheeks; Nell recognized the smell as a herb often used by young lovers to spark evenings of passion. The meaning to Batreese’s words came to light as she entered the last and largest room. A large, heart shaped bed, surrounded by deep red curtains for privacy sat in the middle of the room.
“All right,” Culvir said near the entrance. “It’s a bit tacky, but it seems nice enough. Here you go. This will cover the next two weeks.
Nell hurried back to the entrance hall of the room; Culvir dropped five gold coins and five silvers into Batreese’s waiting palms.
“Plenty of room, clean, and for some really energetic just being in here,” Culvir said.
“I am pleased you find it to your liking. Please enjoy your stay. Per our agreement, please tell me if anything is amiss sir.” Batreese turned to Nell and winked. “If you find yourself too tired to draw a bath, I will come running with fine salted bathwater for a mere silver piece.”
Nell bit her lip. Culvir would not approve. Or perhaps, he would be all too happy about the arrangements: one bed, a lover’s bed, and an atmosphere that was kindling unspeakable urges within her. And Culvir had just paid them for two full weeks.
Baltreese left the room and closed the door. Culvir blinked at Nell’s panicked expression. “Why are you looking at me like that?”
Wordlessly she dragged him by the hand into the bedroom and pointed to the offending bed.
“…oh.” Culvir said, completely at a loss for words.