The Garden of Bones

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic

Chapter 1 (v.7) - Dark Angels Of Helena

Submitted: December 27, 2017

Reads: 196

Comments: 1

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Submitted: December 27, 2017

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12th of Jandar, 1916
 
A bell tolls for the souls of the dead, making crows scatter over morose tombstones.  Aside from the cracks and the diligent snow, were engravings of names long forgotten.  Branches scratched together in the bitter, howling wind, welcoming the stranger to the small and bleak town. 
 
He made it in time to watch a group of mourners gathered in the cemetery, all silent, their faces solemn yet accepting. 
 
Another dead in Byshade, Aveile. 
 
He stayed by the wrought iron gate, not wishing to disturb the service.  He shoved his hands deep his coat pockets, trying to stay warm against the cold.  The hardened snow crunched underneath his combat boots as he shifted his weight, exhaling. 
 
Crows caw from the snow covered branches, interrupting the silence of the service. 
 
Damn crows, they'll wake the dead.”  Adrian Martel thought to himself, watching the omens that stared back with beady eyes. 
 
Once the chill seeped to his bones he started walking back into town.  He had arrived by train not ten minutes prior and already bore witness to a funeral, though it was no surprise. 
 
He had been on his way home from a different hunt in Sheigh when he received another dossier, a hunt, redirecting him to this sleepy town.
 
The streets of Byshade remained empty, the dirt roads barely visible underneath the thin layer of hardened snow and the dark wood buildings remained partially obscured by the ice fog that was making way into town.  He heard doors slam shut, and his eyes turned to the windows, secured with iron bars to keep anything from getting in. 
 
A sign creaked in the eerie silence, taking Adrian's attention.  A wooden sign with peeling paint which read “Clockwork Tavern”. 
 
So he walked over and pushed the door open to get out of the frigid air and to get a room for the night.  He exhaled as the door closed behind him and the warmth of the hearth hit him.  That and the strong scent of whiskey. 
 
All eyes turned to him at once, the chatter drawing to a stop.  “Gods bless all under this roof.”  He gave a slight head bow. 
 
A man raised his glass.  “Skål!” 
 
The girl who sat with the man had her eyes on Adrian, a fierce, burnt umber, and his eyes turned to her's as well.  Her thick auburn hair was a mess and freckles dotted her pale face.  She had a glass of whiskey held in her hands, swirling it back and forth as she watched him with intent.  She finally smirked and went back to her drink. 
 
Adrian finally looked away and walked up to the bar counter at the end of the tavern while some resumed their drinks, but some still stared.  He preferred taking jobs in the cities where people took no notice of strangers, even if he was used to the stares. 
 
He took his hands from his coat pockets to lay them up on the counter.  The barmaid was crouched behind it, organizing a lower shelf.  “I'll be with you in a moment.”  She called up with a thick Lumren accent. 
 
Adrian just nodded and looked back to the ones who still stared.  He reflected that they were probably just confused—he was half-Shakos, and like all Shakos had a rather indistinguishable gender, with fair skin and raven hair.  His hair was long, for a guy's, messy with long bangs that tried but failed to cover his icy blue eyes.  Aside from that, he dressed in all black that contrasted his skin that was the colour of snow. 
 
The barmaid stood up, a tall woman with dirty blond hair tied into a messy bun, her eyes somewhat reddened from exhaustion.  She looked at him, confused for a moment as he looked back at her.  “Wasn't expecting a strange.  Velkommen.  What can I do for you?” 
 
“I just need a room for the night.”  He answered. 
 
“Alright.”  She eyed him while taking out a carton of cigarettes.  “That's fifty .” 
 
Adrian reached into his inner coat pocket to take out his wallet and makes another glance at the meddlers who still stared, watching him like he were some kind of harbinger of darkness. 
 
“Everyone seems so friendly.”  He commented, handing her fifty in paper bills. 
She took the money between two fingers, eying his which were painted black. 
 
“We don't get strangers very often.”  She said, slipping the money away and taking out a lighter.  “Besides, the funeral service is today.” 
 
“I noticed.  Who was it?” 
 
“Nathan Heath.”  She answered, lighting the end of her cigarette and inhaling.  She exhaled a cloud of smoke.  “It's a small town so everyone knows everyone, so it doesn't take long for us to realize when someone goes missing.  Sigg?” 
 
“Nei.”  He waved her off.  “Can you tell me about what happened with Heath?” 
 
She shrugged, avoiding eye contact.  “Nothing to worry about, stranger.  Long as you stay indoors when the night comes, but that's everywhere.”  She gave a fake laugh, still smoking her cigarette.  “You must be from the city.  Better protection in the cities.” 
 
“I live in Astra Valley.” 
 
“The City of Angels.”  She chuckled.  “You're lucky.  Safest city in Aveile, besides the Capital, I guess.  You're lucky.” 
 
“I'm not lucky.” 
 
She looked back at him. 
 
“I'm a hunter.  I'm here to kill the demon that's killed seven people in the last year.  That's why I'm here.” 
 
She sighs, more smoke clouding around her, and she chuckled.  “I should have known you were a Hunter.  Strangers don't just come through this little town, and people don't just willingly leave the safety of the Valley.  Besides, you have that air about you.  You have seen some fucked up shit.” 
 
“We all have.  Where is the demon?” 
 
She coyly smiled.  “You're looking for Black Annis.  She lives on the outskirts of town, she gouged out a cave with her own iron claws if you believe such things.” 
 
“What else do you know?” 
 
“I know that she stalks the streets at night, up and down, grinding her teeth together in wait for a victim.  We thought we were safe indoors until she was seen breaking through a window to drag off a victim.” 
 
That explains the iron bars.”  Adrian thought.  “What else?” 
 
“The last time it happened, before Nathan that is, we heard a scream from the victim as she dragged them away.  But there's nothing we can do.” 
 
“How does she kill them?” 
 
She sighs, ashing her finished cigarette.  “Annis is a cannibal.  All that was left was some bone and some hair.  They didn't have anything to cremate.  So they burned what was left and the service was for the family.” 
 
Adrian frowned.  While he was ready to say so long to this cruel world, the thought of getting eaten afterwards wasn't the most appealing thought.  But there were hardly any demons who would just slit your throat and be done with it.  Most were cannibals if not, deranged maniacs who would slash him to bits like the many Rippers he had encountered.  Why was death so much to ask? 
 
“Keen on having a drink?” 
 
“You said the outskirts of town, right?  Which direction?"
 
"East," she sighed, "will you be okay?"
 
“I've been hunting for four years.  I can handle it.  Now can I have the key to my room, please?”  He held his hand out. 
 
She grabbed a set of keys from off the rack and laid it in his hand.  “Up the stairs, room six.” 
 
“Takk.”  He turned to the staircase and started walking. 
 
“Hey, stranger.” 
 
He stopped and glanced back.  “Ja?” 
 
“What's your name?” 
 
“Adrian Martel.” 
 
“Fancy name.”  She smiled.  “Like Martel, our Frost Goddess.  Well, Martel, since tonight might be your last night alive, you want any company later?” 
 
“I'd rather die as I am.”  He continued back up the stairs, the barmaid blushing from embarrassment. 
 
Room six was to the left.  He unlocked the door and walked in, falling against the door to close it.  A simple room with a small bed, nightstand and a corner desk with an ink and quill.  He tossed the key on the desk and ruffled his hair with an exhale. 
 
Hunters rarely settled down, for good reason, but that made it more common for them to enjoy their nights in the arms of a stranger.  Them, however, didn't include Adrian, or many other Hunters he knew for that matter.  His loneliness sank deep, deep enough that cheap lust couldn't suffice.  A kiss from Death however, might. 
 
~ ~ ~
 
Before nightfall, the ice fog had taken over the town completely, Adrian could barely see through the window, ice crystals clinging around the edges.  He had good eyesight even in the darkest night, but the fog was a different story. 
 
His boots creaked on the floor, he had only taken off his coat once in the room, and he rolled his shirt sleeves up, pacing the room, waiting for night to fall.  And now it had, but the fog would perhaps make it too dangerous.  He paced some more, ruffling his hair up, debating if it was worth it. 
 
A blood curdling scream resounded through the town, breaking Adrian's reverie. 
 
He didn't think before hurrying back downstairs, most of the people who had been in the bar were now outside as if they could do anything.  Adrian ran out after them, and some looked at him. 
 
“Everyone, get back inside!”  The cold slashed at his bare arms, and he cursed on himself for not grabbing his coat. 
 
“No way!”  One of them yelled back.  “It can't do what it wants any longer!” 
 
It's a good thing it's this night I'm here, or these idiots would get themselves killed.”  Adrian sharply exhaled.  “It'll kill all of you, so get back inside now!” 
 
Another scream in the fog and a harsh bite brought the shouts back to silence.  Everyone stared into the ice fog, the unknown, with wide eyes. 
 
“Back inside now.”  He hissed at them.  “It's too late, I can't do anything for him.” 
 
After a brief hesitation, they hurried back inside, slamming the door shut behind them.  Adrian exhaled, agitated, his breath visible in the cold, and he rubbed his arm, backing up.  He could hear more doors slamming as people retreated to their homes, slamming their windows shut, locking them all securely and praying to the Gods the iron bars and locks would be enough to keep it out. 
 
Adrian wondered just how foolish someone had to be to step out of their home when nights lasted so long and morning came too slowly. 
 
He could hear a body being dragged over the snow, how far away, he could barely tell.  He listened as the demon's teeth started grinding together, gradually fading into the distance.
 
Silence followed. 
 
He remained still, staring into the white void where a demon lay in wait, his breathing calm, each breath clinging to the air, his arms freezing but his hands steady.  He hadn't even realized he smiled to himself—the hunt is on. 
 
Adrian pulled the door back open to the tavern, thankful they hadn't locked him out in their panic. 
 
“Now what?”  One of them shouted. 
 
Adrian's eyes fell on the red-headed girl, sitting in the corner, slouched back while smoking a cigarette, looking calmer than he felt. 
 
"Now, I do my job, that's what," he almost hissed and started for the stairs.  “All of you stay in here, stay away from windows, although...”  He bit his lip.  “Although Annis has already fed for the night.” 
 
He pulled open his room door and didn't bother to close it.  He grabbed his coat, slipping his arms through, then strapped his 1911 pistol to his left thigh before returning to the cold winter's night. 
 
Adrian walked past the edge of town, following the drag marks in the snow trailed with a thick line of blood.  A gust of wind stung his pale face and neck, reminding him it was still mid-winter, but he didn't mind the cold, and one would have to grow used to it after four years of hunting late winter nights. 
Adrian had his focus on the drag marks and the that he was almost startled to come upon a tall oak ahead of him, and not far behind it, the crude entrance to a dreadful cave. 
 
Instinctively, he lowered his hand to his as he cautiously walked forward, his combats crunching the snow.  He took out his gun, loaded with crystal bullets, and readied it. 
 
A low grinding of teeth brought him to a halt
 
He spun around, holding the pistol up but stopped—nothing there.  He remained still, his finger carefully over the trigger, tense in the eerie silence.  He exhaled slowly. 
 
The grinding started again, from all directions this time, making his eyes dart around, and tossing him in circles until he fell against the oak tree. 
 
Focus!”  He yelled at himself, then closed his eyes and slowed his breathing.  He sensed his own aura first, then calmed it, and searched for the demon's energy. 
Dark energy flickered, making Adrian jump away from the tree while looking up into branches. 
 
The creature was crouched up in the branch, it's circular white eyes focused on Adrian as it chewed on the mauled off arm, blood sloshing below it.  Its skin was a sickly blue, with thin black hair and measly, blood-stained clothes covered itself.  Blood coated around the demon's mouth, and when it smiled, it revealed a mouthful of shark-like teeth with flesh caught between them. 
 
Adrian raised the pistol and took a shot.  The demon jumped away but the bullet grazed the side of head, so it gave a piercing shriek as it fell to the ground. 
Adrian trudged across the hardened snow and held the pistol up for a quick execution, but the Annis leapt back up and slashed his arm, three gashes splattering out blood from iron claws, and it wickedly grinned. 
 
Before it could attack again, Adrian kicked the demon back, making it stumble. 
He took aim again, but the demon jumped away, hiding in the ice fog. 
 
Helvete da.”  He swore and the demon started laughing at him, a high pitched shriek which echoed through the fog. 
 
Adrian holstered his gun again and held his hands out.  He quickly focused his aura and manipulated it to take the form of two blades and when they fully formed, he grabbed their handles and stepped into a defensive stance.  The blade had a black handle while the right had a white handle, both resembling long machetes—both weapons were miseris, rather the ability to solidify your essence into a weapon, and one of the only things that could kill a demon besides crystal. 
 
He slowed his breathing again, searching for the demon's energy again. 
It flickered behind him as the Annis leapt from the tree at him, but he turned in time and slashed across it.  Blood splashed from the demon's severed arm as it crashed to the ground.  Adrian stumbled as well, sharply exhaling, warm blood falling down his cheeks from a new set of three gashes to match his arm. 
feet, removing a limb hardly enough to kill a demon.  It growled at him, blood spilling from its socket, it's severed arm turning to ash.  It charged at Adrian again, and once it got close enough, he lunged forward and with his right hand, slashes off the demon's other arm from the elbow, and in momentary hesitation, used his left blade to make the last slash. 
 
Blood sprayed from the demon's throat and it started choking on own blood, unable to lash out as it coughed and gasped. 
 
Adrian lowered his blade as it started stumbling back, but he also backed away.  Nothing fought harder for survival than a demon in the face of death, it would never miss the chance to take a Hunter down with it. 
 
Finally, it began burning away to ashes, along with its severed arm and the blood that had spilt on the snow and on Adrian's blades. 
 
He brought his breathing to a calm as the ash away into nothing, leaving only a glowing black soul, pulsing like a heartbeat—a demon's soul.  Eventually, even this would burn away, and leave no trace of itself behind.  Unlike humans, demons were just a soul in the end, with a vessel built around it so cause it's destruction.
 
Then maybe we're not so different, Adrian reflected, but he shook his head and walked away from the nearly burnt away soul.  No, he decided.  That kind of thinking was too dangerous. 
 
~ ~ ~
 
The fog had mostly dispersed by the next morning as he fixed a warmer jacket around himself, and checked the cuts across his cheek out in the mirror.  It had stopped bleeding, but it still stung and he flinched when he grazed his fingers over it. 
 
He fixed his bag over his shoulder and left the tavern.  He dropped the key off along the way, but there was a different bartender that morning, and he gave a polite wave as he left. 
 
Stepping from the tavern, he bumped into something. 
 
“Sorry.” 
 
It was the red-head, looking up at him, and only standing did he realize how short she was. 
 
“No worries, stranger.”  She smirked and went on her way. 
 
He watched her walk away, fixing her hair from under her green jacket, then he went his way, to the outdoor train station.  He climbed aboard.  It would be departing soon enough, and he found his way to an empty booth, not a difficult task. 
 
He slouched down in the seat, and yawned, rubbing his eyes.  “Here's an idea, Adrian,” he whispered to himself, “stay up late hunting and get the earliest train the next day.  You're a fucking genius...” 
 
He inhaled, then exhaled. 
 
The train whistle went off, so he opened his eyes and looked out the window as the train just started moving.  She was standing out on the platform, pulling her hood up.  She caught a glimpse of him and rose a fist to her heart.  And a playful smile revealed small demon fangs. 


© Copyright 2019 Alex Winters. All rights reserved.

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