Serial Killers: The Knowing. Part 2

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.

Stephanie Ellis

Stephanie Ellis is a member of the HWA and writes dark speculative prose and poetry which has been published in a variety of magazines and anthologies, including Flame Tree Press' A Dying Planet and Nosetouch Press' Fiends in the Furrows. She is the author of gothic novella, Bottled, from Silver Shamrock Publishing and the novelette, Asylum of Shadows from Demain Publishing. Her first novel, The Way of the Mother, is due out in October, via Silver Shamrock. She can be found at https://stephanieellis.org/ and on twitter @el_Stevie.

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