Three Weeks Ago.
They stared down into the swallowing darkness of an unimpressive well. “So this is it, is it? The well. I thought it’d be more...” Wenton spread his arms out, palms upward, “Majestic? Ornate? Not a hole in the ground with a half-rotted roof and a rope three-quarters ready to break.”
The storyteller shrugged. “I didn’t make it, and I wasn’t around when it was made. Who am I to say what it should look like, Wenton of the Draughters? Who are you?”
Wenton stuck a pinkie finger in his ear and wiggled, pulling out a glob of yellow. “I’m just saying. No harm meant. Just idle pondering from a half-man, nothing more.” He wiped the finger on his collar.
“H-h-he didn’t m-m-mean n-no offense, ma-ma-Mister Mer--”
“I know that,” the storyteller interrupted, “but you must always be mindful of the words you say. Not every avenue your thoughts take is in the right direction, and some things are much better left unspoken.” The storyteller eyed the brothers severely. “Remember that, and you’ll do reasonably well in this world, so long as you’re in it.” He gave a half-hearted smile. “Sun’s a-rising. Best get the stuff.”
The sky had taken on the pink hues of morning by the time they had the coach car emptied. Odd trinkets littered the grass, procured goods from the last five years. A pair of gilt scissors, supposedly made from gold that once adorned Old Solomon’s Temple’s finest tables. A spool of spidersilk that would spin its remarkable line as long as the stars remained in the heavens, stolen from a blind oracle in Hong Kong. A gentleman’s handkerchief, faded and stained with orange blood that did not belong to the selfsame gentleman. Two vials of a red liquid, one of a charcoal mixture, and one of laced quicksilver. The storyteller picked up a red vial and the silver one. He tossed the first into the Well, careful to drop it straight down the center of the pit.
“Well,” he said, glancing from Wenton to Weseley and back to Wenton, “here’s to hoping.” The storyteller unstoppered the vial and tipped the mercurial solution up to his lips. Thick, viscous liquid stuck to his teeth and tongue, sliding down his throat like damp flour. The man gagged, but he dared not spit it out. Not after the trouble it took to get it. He fell to his knees, reeling from the effects of the toxin. Phantoms appeared before him, hollow eyed and silent, an unfortunate side-effect of mercury poisoning. Wenton handed him the black vial next. The charcoal flakes tasted of sulfur, foul and rotten, like sin and pestilence. Weseley gave him the final vial, its color and texture all too familiar. Half of the blood within belonged to the storyteller, but the rest was taken from dozens of willing and unwilling donors. The more givers the greater your chance of success, the shaman had told him, slicing into his own hand as he talked, spilling his own precious fluids for a stranger’s sojourn. And you need all the help you can get. Shuddering and feverish, the storyteller’s hands trembled as he drank the final vial, washing down charcoal with blood.
The sun's rim exploded above the horizon, spilling brilliant light onto the meadow. A noise, sharp and metallic, echoed from within the well. Tktktktk. It sounded like a large bug skittering around. One by one the phantoms disappeared, ripped apart by a breeze. Hands still shaking, the storyteller pulled himself up and made his way to the Well. Tktktktk. “Come,” the storyteller choked, his voice a whisper of whisper. “Come out and speak to me.” Tktktktktktk. “By the blood of the living and the breath of the slain I adjure you to reveal yourself to me.” TktktktktktktKTKTKTK! Something grey and translucent shot out of the well, sending the storyteller stumbling backwards.
-you travel with poor company, corgan mercy.-
The voice was harsh and strangely familiar, a whispered shout. The storyteller’s world was spinning. He had not been called by that name in a long time. His stomach burned, his head ached, and his dead wife stood in front of him. She was wearing the dress she had been murdered in. The grave had stolen its vibrant colors and replaced them with translucent neutral tones, accentuating the purple bruises on her throat. “Valeste,” he said simply, stunned.
-i did not take you for a murderer, nor a thief, nor a necromancer.- She moved toward him, disappearing momentarily in the sunlight. -i am thrice mistaken.- She was in front of him, behind him, inside him, gliding in and out of sunlight and shadow.
“I...” He searched for an excuse to justify his actions, but nothing came. “Valeste, I... Who are you to judge me?” He blurted out suddenly. “If not for your immorality you never would have ended up like this.” This was not going according to plan.
Blank eyes stared down at him, white and lifeless and shining like the moon against a blackened sky. -and you see where my immorality has led me. i know my sins; the boon of the grave is knowledge. but you, corgan, you do not see your actions as wrongs, do you?- Her words fell on him like hailstones. Of course he had known, on some level, but his deeds were for justice, for the greater good. -why have you called me, my love? you seek retribution, hmm? yes, i can see it in the swirls of your eyes. you want to avenge me. you want to find the one who killed me in the streets as i made my way back home to you, the one who grabbed me and held me down as he choked the life from my throat.- Her face changed into a sneer. -or do you want to know the man who stole me away from your heart and home and threatened me with the love and attention that you withheld? is that it? you want to find the man who loved me and cared for me and you want to kill him. you want him to suffer as you have suffered these past five years. that is not justice, corgan. that is foolishness.-
Corgan flinched at the rasp in her voice. Or was it the truth of her words?
The sun was almost up, burning through her as light through grey chiffon. Valeste spoke above him, her dead face inches from his. -you are twice lucky and twice cursed, my love. i know the vows you made, and they will take you to your grave. the men you seek are one and the same, corgan. my lover is my killer. he disapproved of my refusal to leave you, and he followed me home and killed me in tears and hatred.- She was a faint glimmer of smoke and an echoing voice in his head. -he is your brother, my sweet. it is dillon mercy you’re after.-
Word Count: 1168