The Secret Sellers

Once upon a time an old woman foretold a world where monsters ruled. And they did. The fairy tales from history seemed to foretell the mutations of the future. Forests grew large and dark and within them, creatures thrived. Avis Eldred is one of the few surviving humans; she should be grateful for that. But she's not grateful for killing in order to survive. Now she faces a choice - take a leap of faith and defy everything she ever knew, or keep being a murderer and a coward.

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2. Lurid Memories

 

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Lurid Memories

The problem with killing was always getting started.

It was never what anyone expected it to be, at least at first.

Get a few years of it under your belt and that changed, but when you were young and naive and clean of it, it was never what you thought.

Take a knife for example. Depending on how you went about it, if you got lucky or not, it was either going to be a lot easier or a lot more difficult than you’d planned for.

Get lucky, or get smart as the case might be, and you turned your head, and the blade would slip between the ribs like nothing. Find the lungs or the heart, send blood pouring forth to splash over your hands all hot and sticky…

Easy.

When you didn’t get lucky, or if you were just plain stupid, that is when things get a little messy.

When it wasn’t as easy as you thought it would be.

Then all of a sudden you’re panicking, hacking and slashing away desperately in a blinding–hot fury, splattering and slicing all over the place.

Fearful, because you failed.

Avis remembered it like it was a crystalline mirror. She remembered how scared she was that day; unlike the others in the group, her body had shook with fear and not with adrenaline and anticipation. She remembered that she had held her knife close to her chest like a mother with a child, and was one of the last to strike at a bear like thing. It had took three strikes for it to go down at first. Another ten for her to realise that it was finally dead. She remembered that there was a puddle near the body and as she looked at her reflection she was disgusted at herself. There was half a mask of red blood on her face, covering most of her forehead, nose and lips; her hair was matted with it; her hands were stained with it. Cursing her monstrous appearance, she had leaped up and ran – ran away from the dozen or so other teenagers who were poised over their victims victoriously, hacking away with smiles on their red faces. She had fallen into a river, hoping that the water would cleanse her horror. But it didn’t and as the sun had set that day, her father had found her and although he called her his ‘sensitive girl’ she could clearly see the look of disappointment in his eyes. 

Avis wanted that particular memory to be like a grimy mirror for it haunted her dreams most nights. That night was plagued with a nightmare and she had spent the better part of the night up with her Grandfather’s letter clutched in her fingertips praying that his story would calm her.

“Are you reading that bloody thing again?”

Startling from the somewhat relaxed position on her bed, Avis looked up to see her sister, Neveah, in her doorway. Neveah was a walking, talking contradiction. Her name was heaven spelled backwards, she had been born first but was more childish, and she was a twin but looked nothing like Avis. If a stranger walked past them they would have never guessed that they had shared the same womb.

Neveah got black hair. Avis got blonde.

Blue eyes. Brown eyes.

Strong. Scrawny.

Avis was alright with that. It made her different and independent.

“We’ve been through this,” she sighed as she repackaged the letter and stuck it haphazardly beneath her mattress.

“It calms you, I know.” Neveah was half patronizing and half caring, “Now, get up. Father has a surprise for us.”

Gabriel Eldred was a man that didn’t like surprises, he could hardly contain secrets from anyone and would prefer to be left out of things entirely. Although, he was a strong man, a warrior who worked on the Wall. The Wall was the protection of the city of Audens – meaning bold in Latin and named by the witch who came to protect it – circular so that the enemies outside – that is, the monsters – were more confused. Being that it was a circle, the members of the city all chose to divide things into sections like that of a clock. Twelve was at the top since it signified the beginning or end of the day, and that was where the city council was located. It was cut into pie-like slices after that, with the middle of the city known as the Courtyard since the sectors all met in the middle. Residential homes were in section one to three, leisure areas in four, farm land was in five and six, forest in seven and eight, nine was a mixture of all sorts but was mainly taken up by the Leon River, that disappeared underground at the Wall and in the Courtyard, and sections ten and eleven was dedicated to employment and education.

“We’re meeting Father at the Wall?” Avis asked as she hurried to get ready, not caring about her appearance as much as she knew her sister had that morning.

“Of course not silly, he’s meeting us at the Quarantine.” Neveah moved forward into the room, taking note of the bedsheets on the ground and the general afraid atmosphere in the enclosed space. “You can’t go out like that,”

“I look fine,” Avis was nothing like Neveah’s usually expectations because that usually took hours in front of the mirror to obtain. Despite that, she hadn’t really looked in the mirror that morning to stare at the rather disheveled bed head that she wore from the battle with her sheets during the night. Tutting at her sister’s appearance Neveah moved to run her fingers through Avis’s hair, untangling the knots that were there and smoothing out the bent strands. Once she was finished, Neveah began to unclip the pins from her own hair that were simply there for decoration, and place them in the tousled fair strands at the back of Avis’s head.

“There, now you look pretty; like rays of sunshine.”

When they were both little their mother would share the story of their birth on Midwinters day, when the sun hung low in the sky. She told her little girls how when she held them both for the first time, she compared them to night and day; two little bodies so different from each other. Avis was the day and the light, blessing everyone with warmth in the form of toothless smiles and firm handshakes. Neveah was the night, a constrained ball of mystery that would sneak around like shadows trailing along the ground. Once they eldered and people began to follow Neveah’s cold light and left Avis with no shadows to lead, she would always whisper to her younger daughter that she was a bundle of sunshine rays that would bless people with her light when it was right. Although in the present day, Octavia Eldred didn’t spread her wealth of advice and stories anymore, preferring to hide in the greenhouses with plants. But that was probably down to the scar that drifted from below her left eye to just shy of her lips. The beast that did that was hunted down and killed by Octavia herself but the redemption did nothing for their mother’s confidence.

“And you are like the moon; the biggest mirror in the sky.” Avis whispered as the sisters linked arms and nearly and gleefully skipped to the Quarantine.

The Quarantine was a flat but wide building that ran along the whole perimeter of the Wall, rather like the rim of a clock. It was essentially a prison where monsters were kept for interrogation and the more human like ones were summited to slavery. But there was always a catch in the Quarantine, to escape the hang man’s noose, they had to tell the Council everything they knew. The monsters in the building were known as the Secret Sellers because they exchanged their secrets for their life. Avis would occasionally see the monster slaves in various sectors doing the worst jobs in the city being threatened with being cut loose from the wall, and having their fellow monsters tear them limb from limb for betraying them. It was a harsh life for them, but in a world where humans were on the endangered list it was a combat between predator and prey.

This place, that she called home, had monsters living in the shadows; animals feral and bloodthirsty and humans fearful and hunted, and some rare few who still dreamed of peace. It was home but it was also Hell.

They met their Father in one of the front rooms. After a few warm hugs and without any exchanged dialogue he directed them through a long corridor, filled with locked and elaborate doors. Avis was a bit disheartened by how truly dark it was, the daylight outside trapped by long blinds and curtains on the few windows. The reverb and echoes from their feet made the place seem eerie as if something bad was waiting for them through the double doors at the end.

Avis hoped that she didn’t just jinx herself.

Her father raised a single finger to his lips. The sister’s slowed their breaths intentionally. Gabriel withdrew a set of keys from his pocket and shoved them into the lock of the doors. The doors swung open like that of infirmary doors with little to no resistance. Avis nearly sent her foot through thin air as she stepped forwards.

“Whuh,” air rushed from her lips as she grabbled for ground on the thin ledge. The darkness didn’t help either. Finally, as her father hauled her back so that she was leant against the doors, the light returned. Faint, soft, flickering light. Avis could see a deep plunge that lead to a large room made small by the wall-to-wall, floor to ceiling shelves that held lots and lots of glass bottles and jars of every size imaginable. Within the glass, she could see the light source. Each bottle or jar held a small wispy thing that emitted a faint light. Add the hundreds – thousands? – Of them together and the room was well lit. Disturbingly, what was in the glass moved like it had mind and purpose? Not just like aimless floating, though a few did that, but others were fast, darting in and around their confines in an agitated manner.

Avis wanted to ask what they were but her voice was halted by the sight in the middle of the room. Strapped to a chair was a monster. It was a male with stag horns poking out of dark brown locks, and reptilian scales gracing his arms, his shoulders held knobs and barbs like a thorn. He looked dangerous. But he looked defeated in that moment.

More human than most monsters Avis had seen, although she hadn’t seen many, she could tell that this was a Secret Seller, the roaming eyes were whitened and guilty.

“Who is that?”

“That is Casimir and he is going to be our bodyguard.” 

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