Serial Killers: The Knowing. Part 4

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.

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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