Post series: The Knowing

Serial Killers: The Knowing. Part 5

  1. Serial Killers: The Knowing. Part 1
  2. Serial Killers: The Knowing. Part 2
  3. Serial Killers: The Knowing. Part 3
  4. Serial Killers: The Knowing. Part 4
  5. Serial Killers: The Knowing. Part 5

Serial Killers are part of our Trembling With Fear line and are serialized stories which we’ll be publishing on an ongoing basis.

The Knowing. Part 5

Wisdom and Death, War and Song. Four powerful Divinities, two of them in exile, all of them interwoven. Variol of Drimslip and Nella of Yyrkana faced Syralis of Sendra and Crylok of Gordash, and the city trembled underfoot. Hail began to fall from the noontime, springtime sky. The people of Sendroval went inside and hid their heads.

“This is insanity!” screamed Nella, Priestess of Death. “The Goddess of Wisdom cannot possibly seek alliance with the Powers of Hell!”

Syralis loomed in the rising shadow of her avatar, Sendra Herself. “Wisdom is whole when wedded with Strength.”

“And Gordash will return, unfettered by the puling of the Council,” roared Crylok, dishonored High Priest of War. “His hand will smite whomsoever we choose, and blood will fill the lands.”

“You’re both idiots,” Variol said calmly. “No one fights unless they’re spurred by songs and tales. No one learns a teaching till it’s writ in rhyme.”

“And without War and Wisdom, you adolescent crooners would have nothing to sing about!” spat Syralis.

“Quite so. That’s why there’s a Council, not a King.”

“Drimslip was barely even a part of the Council of Gods.”

“And that’s why banishment has barely bothered Him. Bards still gather from every corner of the realms to sing and play. The powers of Gordash, on the other hand, have gravely waned.”

“Blasphemy,” snarled Crylok. “I’ll show you who has waned!”

And the Knowing began. All four priests, emerging from their bodies, were bolstered by the full power of their Gods, and the Temple of Wisdom strained at the holding of them. Dust came sifting down from the rafters, and the stained glass rattled musically in the window frames.

Crylok lanced forward with the might of swords and chariots, confident in sealing away the poet once and for all. But Variol simply pulled away the power of the minstrel, of the intellect, and the iron and the wheel became a rock, a stick, the slapping hands of feces-covered primates. The War-God’s power scattered and swirled about the chamber, blowing out the marble walls.

Then Syralis rallied, bolstering Crylok with the soaring radiance of Wisdom, and the force of military precision reconvened. Both enemies pushed forward, seeking Variol’s heart—forgetting the bulwark of his ally. They shattered on the sudden obsidian of Nella’s grim black absolute. All wisdom comes to nothing. Glory dies. All warriors are swallowed by the clay. Every candle in the Temple went out, and darkness fell over Sendroval.

But Syralis pushed past the destiny of mortals. Death was strong, but not the end. Beyond the grave was Hell. Beyond the tomb was Darkness. The reach of Sendra faltered, and that was why they called upon a greater Power. The whispering of demons filled the air.

Variol turned loose the frothing tide of lyricism: flowers, harps, and laughter, children running through golden fields of barley, rainbows over sparkling seas, love and joy and hope. The ravenous sniffing of the devils turned to yowls and whimpering, like bloodhounds that stumbled on skunk-scent.

Syralis countered by reaching across to Death. All this beauty will die: so counsels Wisdom! Nella reached across to War. Yet love is worth fighting for: so counsels Death! Crylok, flailing, reached across to Poetry. But in the end, only empty words remain: so mutters War. And Variol, smiling, reached across to Wisdom. Then let us turn from Darkness and live in the daylight while we may: so say the bards.

They stood in deadlock. The shaking of the earth grew stronger, and cracks appeared in the tiled mosaic floor. The snuffed-out candles burst into sudden conflagration, mystic torches in the dimness of the sanctuary. The River Send began to boil, and croaking toads came flooding into the byways of the city. The people howled and panicked. The sun in heaven burned like crimson gore.

“You’re too smart for this, Syralis,” Variol said over the rattle and din. “You’re too wise to believe in what you’re doing.”

“Shut up!”

“You hate us because we make your esoteric wisdom accessible to all. We take away your eminence. We make everyone elite.”

“You butcher the insights of greatness!”

“But deep down, you know that we need each other. You can’t quite stifle the voice of your own humility.”

“I. . .”

An ear-splitting crack: the foundations of the Temple were failing.

“Don’t—listen, Syralis!” Crylok growled. “He speaks only weakness.”

“This fight is over,” said the bard. “Go ahead and enter my body, Lady of Wisdom. You’ll convince me of nothing, for you already Know that what I say is true.”

Syralis dropped her arms. The spire of the Temple snapped and toppled to the courtyard far below. The Priestess fell to her knees and slumped to the earth.


Crylok broke away and fell writhing to the floor as well, his avatar half-stuck in the Knowing as he struggled to retreat into himself. The foggy nightmare visage of Gordash reared up above them and dissolved.

Around them swirled the Power of Hell itself, now vulnerable, called up and left unmarshalled. “This is our chance, Variol,” Nella panted. “We can drive the Darkness from this world once and for all!”

“Oh,” he said. “You may have misunderstood my intentions there.”


“I’m a bard, Lady Nella. I can’t tell a story without the Darkness. I can’t let it win, of course—but I can’t let it perish, either.”

He dropped his arms, and the crucible of Knowing came to an end. Nella returned to her body, and the celestial forms of the Gods faded away. The earth grew still. The gale outside grew calm. The fire and darkness waned.

Nella stood staring at Variol in disbelief, too shocked for rage. “You betrayed me. You betrayed us all!”

“I never said I wanted to destroy the Dark.”

“For the love of the Gods, the mortal realm could have been free of evil forever.”

“How boring! Come on, let’s get a drink.”

“Go to Hell.”

He laughed. “Time enough for that. Farewell for now, High Priestess. We’ll meet again, I’m sure.”

The metropolitan streets were empty, but for a few confused toads hopping along in the returning sunshine. Like any bard, Variol headed straight for the first tavern he saw. Inside, too frightened even to peep at the windows, a dozen people huddled by the bar. And Calavariol, High Priest of the Bard-God Drimslip, drew his flute.

“My friends! Why so worried on such a lovely day? Come, barkeep, pour me an ale and let’s have some merriment.”

And he began to sing.

J.B. Toner

jJ.B. Toner  studied Literature at Thomas More College and holds a black belt in Ohana Kilohana Kenpo-Jujitsu, he and his lovely wife have just had their first daughter, Ms. Sonya Magdalena Rose.

Serial Killers: The Knowing. Part 4

  1. Serial Killers: The Knowing. Part 1
  2. Serial Killers: The Knowing. Part 2
  3. Serial Killers: The Knowing. Part 3
  4. Serial Killers: The Knowing. Part 4
  5. Serial Killers: The Knowing. Part 5

Serial Killers are part of our Trembling With Fear line and are serialized stories which we’ll be publishing on an ongoing basis.

The Knowing. Part 4

There cannot be two omnipotent beings. What if they disagreed?

When the Light and the Darkness quarreled, there was great tumult in the cosmos. After many worlds were consumed in the argument, the mortal realm became a place of detente, its denizens permitted to make their own choice between Eternities. That much, everyone knows.

But no one will choose. No one has ever chosen. In all of history, not one soul has been purely Dark or purely Light. And the Dark has grown impatient.

“Stop weaving a tale, bard, and just tell me what’s afoot.”

Variol held up his hands. “Your pardon, lady. Old habits, you know. The long and short of it is, the God of War has made a pact with the Ultimate Powers of Hell. It was in service to that pact that the fighters of Gordash turned on the bards of Drimslip twenty years ago. But what no one perceived at the time is that, in that one act, Gordash practically deposed not one God, but four.”

“Eh? How so?”

“Think of it, my lady. The wisdom of Sendra: deep, but dry. How many folk heed her words, besides old men sealed away in dusty towers with their ancient books? It’s through songs and poetry that ordinary folk pass on the wisdom of the ages. With the Bard-God disenfranchised, the Goddess of Wisdom lost over half her power as well. And once Gordash’s treachery was consummated, the Council of Gods immediately cast him out: hence, three Gods gone. And now that warriors take no joy in war, the Goddess of Death has no tribute, save from the elderly and sick, and from honorless murderers. Four of the Pantheon’s most powerful deities, gutted at one stroke.”

She frowned. “Perhaps.”

“And furthermore, think on this. If Gordash had remained in the Council, his comings and goings would have been known. If he had abdicated, he would have been tracked with suspicion. But, once hurled forth in disgrace, he could go whithersoever he wished in secrecy. No one even wants to know where he is, now.”

“And where do you think he is?”

“Consorting, I fear, with the Darkness. It’s not mere chance that demons have arisen within the ruins of the old War-chapels.”

“The scions of Hell have always gravitated to places of desecration.”

“Indeed they have, and Gordash knows that we know that. But the recent influx of damned spirits into the worship-halls of War surpasses random hauntings or possessions. Everywhere I go, I find them. And no one realizes how widespread the problem is, because there are so few bards to spread news.”

She nodded slowly. “What you say is plausible. But the bards are finally reawakening. A new generation is at hand, and the upcoming tourney will rekindle the sparks of music in our land. Perhaps even bring Drimslip back from his exile in the Shadow Realms.”

“Which is precisely why I fear that we have little time to squander. A second bard-slaughter may well be at hand.”

Her nodding accelerated. “Only Dark Bards, only Dark Warriors, would dare to practice their crafts. Yyrkana’s only reliable tribute would come from servants of the Darkness, and Gordash could even return as a Demon-God.”

“Could and shall, Lady Nella, if you and I do not act.”

“Bard Variol, tell me how you know these things.”

He shrugged. “Knowing is my business. I’ve thought on these matters since I escaped the murder of my colleagues long ago, and perhaps the banished Lord Drimslip has enlightened my conjectures from afar.”

“A nimble non-answer, poet.”

“We should be on our way.” Variol got to his feet. “The Priestess of Sendra will never listen to me; the Sages have always looked down upon the Singers.”

“I remember. But she’ll listen to me. Let us go.”

At Nella’s call, a coterie of guards rapidly assembled. Two more priestesses came trotting out to take up her flanks, and the whole entourage went out through the main gate into the streets of Sendroval. Townsfolk scurried out of their way, turning their faces aside. Variol ambled casually along behind them, whistling a cheerful tune.

At the doors of the Temple of Wisdom, the Lady Nella was received with great courtesy. Her guards and junior clerics were admitted to a spacious and comfortable parlor, and she was invited to enter the inner chambers of Lady Syralis, the High Priestess of Sendra, for a private audience.

“My thanks,” she said to the captain of the guard. “But I ask that my personal secretary—” she gestured toward Variol, who was loitering in the vestibule “—be permitted to accompany me.”

The captain squinted at the bard, who smiled blandly. Apparently perceiving no great threat in the little man, he nodded. “Aye, be it so.”

Variol and Nella entered the sanctum of Lady Syralis.

“Greetings, dear sister,” said the Lady. She was broad-shouldered and beautiful, with a mien so inscrutable that only Sendra herself could have read it. “Long has it been since you graced me with a visit.”

“I wish that better tidings brought me, Lady. Dark days are upon us.”

“Do speak.”

Quickly, Nella sketched out the imminent peril that Variol had unveiled to her. Syralis listened, impassive. She turned away in thought.

“Your analysis,” she said at last, “is impressively accurate. However, you have failed to grasp one key component of the War-God’s plan.”

Variol’s eyes squeezed shut. “Oh, no.”

“He did not act alone. The Goddess Sendra stands with him.”

Nella’s mouth opened. Nothing came out.

Syralis turned back toward them, and a smile was on her face. “I know you, bard. Your little rabble of lute-strummers have never had a Temple, preferring to wander and spread your watery platitudes in lieu of real wisdom. But you do have a High Priest—or rather, you did. And that High Priest was once called Calavariol.”

He bowed, slightly. “I knew that your arrogance went as far as malice, Lady Syralis, but I had not guessed it went as far as madness. It will be a pleasure to destroy you.”

“Indeed, let us all Know one another.” She raised her arms, and a great wind arose in the chambers about them. As High Priestess, she could summon up the very presence of her Goddess in times of great need.

Variol and Nella raised their arms as well. Around Nella blossomed a black and purple flame; around Variol, a shimmering aura as of dancing waters. But a fourth power was present in the room.

“Fools.” A grinding baritone. A heavy tread. The clink of chain mail. There stood Crylok, old gigantic bearded Priest of War, long since banished. His huge arms rose as well, and the floor began to tremble at their feet. “This world will be ours.”

“We’ll see about that,” said Variol. “. . .’Tis on.”

J.B. Toner

jJ.B. Toner studied Literature at Thomas More College and holds a black belt in Ohana Kilohana Kenpo-Jujitsu, he and his lovely wife have just had their first daughter, Ms. Sonya Magdalena Rose.

Serial Killers: The Knowing. Part 3

  1. Serial Killers: The Knowing. Part 1
  2. Serial Killers: The Knowing. Part 2
  3. Serial Killers: The Knowing. Part 3
  4. Serial Killers: The Knowing. Part 4
  5. Serial Killers: The Knowing. Part 5

Serial Killers are part of our Trembling With Fear line and are serialized stories which we’ll be publishing on an ongoing basis.

The Knowing. Part 3

When Variol opened his eyes, they met soft golden sunshine. He stirred and groaned, and lifted the back of a pew that had collapsed across his torso.

He sat up. Around him were the charred and smoking remnants of the place once consecrated to the disgraced War-God. Of the demoness, there was no sign.

A louder groan, and he got to his feet. His flute was lost in the wreckage. Behind him were only the pathless hills of the Gravian Forest. A long and lonely trudge through the plains awaited him, with only the ash in his mouth to break his fast.

But with his tenth step, he stumbled. A jagged, jutting board, which, when kicked aside, revealed a sack of wine. He picked it up: by the grace of one god or another, it was still intact. The bard raised it to his lips and drank deep.

“Now that’s a good night’s work,” he murmured. He drank again, and began to hum a tune as he headed West. At his back, the sun climbed higher through the merry blue ceiling of the World.

A few days later, he left the rainy country of Hylomoria behind. He caught a wagon-train in Kenoma, and sang for his passage South. The year was blossoming into Spring, and all the cosmos of blue and green awakened as the leagues unfurled before them.

And there, one morn, was Sendroval. The bard’s old home, walled and mighty, surrounded by the sunlit fields of the South. Variol thanked his new friends and hopped from the wagon to saunter down the Lane of Death.

For this great city, jewel of the Kingdoms, housed a temple to each one of the gods. It was named for Sendra, Goddess of Wisdom; but Yyrkana, Goddess of Death, was honored there as well. Not far off was the temple of Aive, Lord of the Sun, and another disused church of War.

Death’s temple was closed to the public during the day (unless the sky-watchers foretold an eclipse), but Variol knew many things. He walked casually along the onyx wall, away from the front steps and the giant doors, down a small and shadowed alleyway. Then, casually, he caught hold of a seam in the stone and swung himself up. Caught hold of another, hoisted himself up, and caught another: scaled the black wall like a crooning spider till he vaulted the top and dropped into the secret garden beyond.

A tall grey woman was strolling in the flowery aisles. Kindly smile lines marked her face, and the frown of deep thought, and the jaw-set of enormous strength. Variol stepped out from behind a birch tree wrapped in flowering ivy, humming a cheery tune. Her fists clenched when she saw him, but her face stayed calm.

“Lady Nella,” said the bard, “High Priestess of Death.”

“Odd,” she said, “that’s my name too.”

He grinned. “Lovely to see that you have humor, Lady. My name is Variol of Sendroval. I come, ostensibly, for the tourney of the bards two days hence; but in the meanwhile, there’s work to be done. I need your help.”

“You have humor too, little minstrel. Why in all the Seven Hells would I help you?”

“Because you know that Gordash betrayed the God of the Bards. But his treachery did not conclude with his banishment: Yyrkana too is imperiled. You see, you need my help as well.”

“Tell me the tale, bard. Your boldness earns you that, at least. I’ll decide after if your quest is worth my time.”

He shook his head. “First, your word. I cannot risk the tale until I know your loyalty is where it should be. Your predecessor was best of friends with the murdered rhyme-lord, and the Death-Goddess with the Bard-God. But you, I do not know.”

The Priestess stepped closer, and her frown grew deep. “You go too far. Speak your tale or I will cast you out myself.”

“A Knowing, then?” He smiled.

“You’re unwise to challenge me.” She raised her voice in the Hymn of the Tomb, and her avatar stepped slowly forth from her flesh. The power of Yyrkana loomed behind her, an aura like the sickle of a titan. “You are nothing but a feckless fool,” she declared.

“Perhaps.” And his glowing spirit lunged for her grey-clad body.

Anticipating her opponent’s use of Music, Nella drew upon the silence of the grave: the deep, black, sound-swallowing nothingness that waits beneath the grass. But Variol didn’t try to match her strength. The Spirit of the Grass, unworshiped by men, dwelt quietly about them in the budding Spring, endlessly growing and alive. As she drove toward his body on the wings of oblivion, she found herself gently but tirelessly pushed back by a vibrancy no scythe could keep at bay.

Pivoting in mid-idea, she pushed forward with the breath of Winter, foe of Grass and friend of Death—but, slipping behind her defenses, Variol himself now called upon Yyrkana Death-Goddess. His handling of that power was far less efficient than the Priestess’ would be; but the difference in sheer brute force between a mere season and final mortality was enough to break her momentum once again.

She fell back and glared, but a grudging respect was dawning in her face. Nevertheless, she felt, it was time to put forth her true might. She soared above the sunlit garden and descended as the hammer of Apocalypse. “Death is victorious!”

“Yet the battle is glorious.”

As she slammed into his avatar with the full, terrible weight of her Goddess, she saw what he had done: buoyed up by Rhyme, he’d cast out webs of invocation in two opposite directions, channeling Gordash by the call to arms and Sendra by his stoic perseverance. In the figure of the Bard, War and Wisdom met—and he warded himself with all three. It was a brilliant move.

But he was no priest of Wisdom, and War was no longer a God. She pressed him slowly down, and down, until she stood firmly inside his body. Her Known was now his own.

Her opinion, however, had changed in the course of this fight. True, he’d been defeated; but for a simple bard to hold his own against the High Priestess of Death was a remarkable feat. The belief she had sought to impose, she no longer held: and therefore, nor did he. They returned to their own bodies, the Knowing a stalemate.

Variol sat down heavily on the grass, panting. The Lady Nella, her chin held high, walked to a nearby bench and sank onto it with dignity. For a few moments, they sat in silence. Finally, she took a breath and spoke in a calm unwavering voice.

“I will not betray your confidence, rhyme-smith. You have my word.”

He nodded and wiped his brow. “Thank you, my Lady. Here, then, is my tale. . .”

J.B. Toner

jJ.B. Toner studied Literature at Thomas More College and holds a black belt in Ohana Kilohana Kenpo-Jujitsu, he and his lovely wife have just had their first daughter, Ms. Sonya Magdalena Rose.

Serial Killers: The Knowing. Part 2

  1. Serial Killers: The Knowing. Part 1
  2. Serial Killers: The Knowing. Part 2
  3. Serial Killers: The Knowing. Part 3
  4. Serial Killers: The Knowing. Part 4
  5. Serial Killers: The Knowing. Part 5

Serial Killers are part of our Trembling With Fear line and are serialized stories which we’ll be publishing on an ongoing basis.

The Knowing. Part 2

On the outskirts of Rooksnest, in the rainy land of Hylomoria, a ruined church of Gordash stood alone. Beyond the tumbled gravestones and the mossy gates, a broad flat plain stretched away to the West; behind the walls of the sanctuary, all paths were lost in forest hills. Only the crows and the dead kept council here, but the misspent magic of some long-dead cleric lingered in the bell tower, and two deep slow bongs tolled the hour. The moon was nearly full, but she lit only the roofs of the high cold thunderclouds.

Variol the bard paced the sagging choir loft. A single candle shed its shadows in the draughty space, and a half-full sack of wine slumped beside it on the windowsill. Below, in the silent pews, the spiders held their court; above, in the creaking rafters, ravens dozed. The vast cathedral vault throbbed faintly with the ancient grief of the sky.

Pausing for a moment, Variol lifted his wineskin and drank. Stared into the fluttering orange wick-spark. Then turned and resumed his pacing, all the faster. His palm slapped the birch-flute that swung at his hip, but he didn’t draw it yet. It wasn’t time.

The rain was growing heavier. A few dark birds croaked and shuffled in their slumber. Variol strode in fierce, aimless loops, whispering bits of ballads forgotten by this weary generation. The candle burned lower, and he paused again for wine. Slow-trickling, the moments passed.

Then, down at the foot of the altar, a strange red light began to glow. Soft at first, then lurid as it grew. The bard drew his flute.

The great bell tolled again, three times. The glaring light rose high above the altar and the aisles, resolving slowly into man-shape. Long, slender limbs, a graceful curving neck, and flowing crimson hair: a woman-shape, blue-clad, with shining cat-green eyes. Higher yet she rose, and stood on empty air, level with the choir loft.

“Good evening, traveler.” Silken razor voice. “You must be cold—so cold. Come, warm yourself in my arms.”

“Don’t squander your blandishments. I’m here to send you back.”

“Are you now.” A soft red smile, and fangs. “You don’t smell like a priest to me. But perhaps I’m wrong. It happened once before, you know. Long ago.”

“Oh, I’m no priest. But you’ve murdered enough wayfarers for one eternity. I challenge you to The Knowing.”

She clapped her hands. “What fun! I like you, little man. I may grant you a moment of rapture before the suffering begins.”

“We’ll see.” And he began to play. The music rippled in the emptiness, and filled it. The shaded nooks of the sanctuary shivered like tuning forks struck against the stars. He played with honesty, and stripped the armors of his spirit bare. In the resonating space between them, his true self stood revealed.

She flung back her head and shrieked. Her shrieking filled the earth and filled the skies. Lightning blazed overhead, and the chapel’s rotten timbers rattled. In the shocked and trembling space, her true self stood revealed.

This, the bardic sorcery of The Knowing: an astral duel in which one naked soul confronted another with the convictions that defined them, the things they most deeply and truly Knew. For Variol, son of the harpstrings, those things were Music and Joy, Honor and Fellowship; Harmony, Justice, Love, and Fun; the beauty of the maiden Nala Vay, the strength of the swordsman Cundar of Raelor, and the profound certainty that Sendrovese ale was the best in all the Kingdoms. For the ageless, nameless entity that haunted this once-sacred place, those things were Hunger and Hate.

Variol’s avatar speared forward at once, hoping to capitalize on her arrogance. Whichever soul could enter the body of the opponent would thereby impose its Knowledge upon the other. Variol sought to infuse the succubus with his reverence for life, his horror at the slaughter of innocents: he rode upon a tide of loving families, friends rejoicing, laughter and song, shot through with mourning mothers and orphans’ lamentation. But her hatred blazed, a conflagration of beaten children, treacherous lovers, and poisoners gloating over ill-got inheritances. The foaming breakers of Variol’s attack smashed against her spirit’s flame and burst into smoke and steam, dispersing through the pillars of the church.

“You think I care for their tiny affections or fast-forgotten heartbreaks?” snarled her avatar. “Creatures of dust and mud, all of you. You live only to let me feast!” And she drove toward him with the wolves of insatiable gluttony at her back, frothing and yowling, red-eyed and ravenous. Variol was pushed back across the air, straining to keep her barking hunger at bay.

“There is—more than—dung and dust!” he cried out, and a towering cyclone of symphonic music crashed into life behind him, buoying him up. The chorus of the stars and spheres, the orchestras of wind and wave, the striving, yearning, unrelenting guidance of Creation the Conductor. The wolves reared like panicked horses, milled and swirled through empty space, and finally sat tamely to hear the triumphant melody.

Thus bolstered, the bard pushed forward once again, but his Music broke on the bedrock of her Hate. No tune could reverberate in that dense-packed citadel of malice. Her Hunger rekindled, and it slowly pushed him back and back and ever back.

“You exist to feed me, dancing doll. You are nothing but my meat!”

If she imposed that belief, he would give himself willingly to her. Gritting his astral teeth, he held her back with all he had, but her snapping soul was now only millimeters from his flesh. “Damn you!” he roared. “Gnaw yourself forever in the Hell of your own heart!”

And some new force awoke in him and shoved her away. An avalanche of ice, his own cold hatred for his enemy. He opened himself to that power and he hated this devil, this murdering abomination, and his hate was strong.

“Fool!” she screamed. “You think you can out-hate me?”

Her fire erupted, volcanic; his wrath advanced, glacial. The church quaked, and shards fell ringing from the windowpanes. Thunder blasted overhead, and storm winds blew the driving rain into the sanctuary. The ravens leapt from their perches and flapped through the darkness, wildly cawing. Variol’s candle fell from its sill and the floorboards of the loft ignited.

Her laughter echoed, shrill. “We’ll perish together, bard.”

“Not—quite—yet!” One last lunatic gambit: he broke from their deadlock and retreated into his physical body. Shaking himself, he sprang up onto the railing and hurled himself from the balcony. With a great bound, he sailed right over the spot where he knew her invisible avatar was floating, and collided in midair with her still-hovering body. Behind him, the decomposing choir loft went up in flames. And, clinging madly to her neck high above the marble floor, he left his body again and dove into hers.

Her screech of rage and despair reached his astral ears just as he disappeared into her corporeal form, and then all else vanished in the earth-shattering explosion of song. His own fury forgotten, he became one with the life-affirming Music as it filled them both, filled the chapel, filled the heavens. The columns of the church caught fire about them, and a single shaft of lightning lanced down from above to meet the rising inferno. The ceiling collapsed.

J.B. Toner

jJ.B. Toner  studied Literature at Thomas More College and holds a black belt in Ohana Kilohana Kenpo-Jujitsu, he and his lovely wife have just had their first daughter, Ms. Sonya Magdalena Rose.

Serial Killers: The Knowing. Part 1

  1. Serial Killers: The Knowing. Part 1
  2. Serial Killers: The Knowing. Part 2
  3. Serial Killers: The Knowing. Part 3
  4. Serial Killers: The Knowing. Part 4
  5. Serial Killers: The Knowing. Part 5

Serial Killers are part of our Trembling With Fear line and are serialized stories which we’ll be publishing on an ongoing basis.

The Knowing. Part 1

Come to me, wayfarer. Come into me. Come inside.

No, I. . . I. . .

So lonely. So cold. Share my warmth.

Cold. Yes, I—I am cold.

Come closer. Give yourself.


Oh, your heat. Oh, your heart. So sweet, so tart.

What is—what are—no, wait. Please, wait, I—

Sweet little fly. Sweet little soul.

No, please, not that—not my—soul



In the rainy country of Hylomoria, far from the Ogre-beleaguered cities of the North, was a little town called Rooksnest. It was a simple but ancient settlement, at least by the standards of this perilous land where the lives of men were brutal and short. One of the secrets of its longevity was that it lay roughly between nowhere and nothing at all: no army would occupy it en route to any strategic locale, nor would any horde would go out of its way to pillage the place. A single muddy river and a single muddy road were the only inlets to Rooksnest; and up the latter, one windy eventide, a single muddy bard came ambling.

Variol of Sendroval had been away from home a long time. He was heading back South on business, but it wasn’t his nature to take a straight road. Thus he found himself on the path to this haunted hamlet as the thunder began to mutter overhead. On the outskirts of town, he passed a ruined old church of Gordash, and a strange smile crossed his face. He was older than he looked, and remembered a time when that name had been revered.

Like any bard, he headed straight for the first tavern he saw; but he didn’t even make it inside. Out in the village square, a dozen folk were gathered around a surprisingly ornate fountain, singing and sharing casks of drink. Variol drew the birch-carven flute that swung at his hip like a longsword, and wreathed himself in music as he approached. His notes blended neatly into theirs, and they made way for the flutesman as if they’d been expecting him for years.

A few dances and a few shared draughts from the wine-skin at his waist, and Variol was best of friends with everyone. “What’s your name, stranger?” bellowed a redbeard barrel-chested fellow with a scimitar.

“Variol the bard, and you?”

“Queldritch the soldier!” He hoisted a cask, and they drank to a fellowship that might last decades or minutes. Twenty years ago, Queldritch would have called himself “the warrior” with pride; but the War-God’s name was now spoken only with a sneer (or a sob).

“And what brings you this way, man of song?” asked a young lady with roses in her hair.

“On my way to Sendroval, to compete in a great tourney of the bards. It’s not for a few more weeks, so I thought I’d wander a bit from the thoroughfares.”

All voices rose in laughter. “Well then, you’re in the right place!” guffawed one old man, nearly toppling into the fountain. They steadied him, and he snatched the liquor-cask from an unwary hand and swigged. “Now let’s have another song, minstrel!”

A light rain began to fall, but none heeded it. Variol played, and the townsfolk sang, and Queldritch and another big man picked up sticks to mock-fight. Good spirits flowed, and torch-smoke rose to meet the rising storm as the sunlight disappeared. Then a ragged figure entered the circle of dancing light.

“Gods of Death and Hell,” said Queldritch. “Another one.”

The revelers recoiled. Gaunt was the newcomer, and the sockets of his eyes were doorways to the black between the stars. He reached out, drooling, his mouth forming senseless words, and stumbled to and fro like a traveler in a wilderness of nightmares. The rose-maiden shrieked, and the old man fainted. The others drew back in horror, but Variol merely stood. In his face was not dread, but sorrow.

“It’s Ulrig the smith, from Ettinsmoor,” Queldritch said. “He must have—must have strayed into the church last night.”

The ruined man shambled past them, unseeing, and wandered toward the edge of town.

“What church?” Variol demanded.

“The—the War-God’s church. It’s been abandoned ever since—you know.”

Oh, he knew.

“And why have no brave soldiers faced the thing in there?” the bard asked coolly.

The big man dropped his gaze. “Some did. None lived, nor died, but met the morn as ghouls like that poor smith. We tried to burn the church, but something—something made us stop.”

Variol exhaled. He’d seen such things before. Despite his reflexive ire, he realized it would take something other than steel to give a merry close to this grim tale. Sheathing his flute, he turned and headed back the way he’d come.

“Bard, don’t be a damn fool. Variol!”

As he walked, the poetry woke inside of him. He chanted:

Three deep slow bongs, the steeple’s song
That keeps a long night vigil here
O’er slain conclaves in rainswept graves
And saints’ stone glaives and granite spears.
The nave’s dark stained-glass cave, domain
Of ravens, faintly throbs with tears
Downflung from weeping-wrung cloud-heaps
Among the sleeping stars and spheres.

The rainfall intensified. The spire of the cracked and crumbled holy place drew near. It was time for the Knowing.

J.B. Toner

jJ.B. Toner studied Literature at Thomas More College and holds a black belt in Ohana Kilohana Kenpo-Jujitsu, he and his lovely wife have just had their first daughter, Ms. Sonya Magdalena Rose.