The Destruction of Beautiful Things

"They give our Master a crown of thorns, why do we hope for a crown of roses?" - Martin Luther

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7. Chapter Six

As soon as the sun had set below the horizon, Millicent was scurrying out of her apartment and winding through the streets of Shalom. Her grey cloak billowed in the breeze behind her, and a singular knife was strapped to her inner thigh. It was definitely past curfew, and Millicent hadn’t bothered to stop by the Mayor’s offices before heading back to her apartment after her appointment with Doctor Ellsworth. Once there, she grabbed a long black coat and a belt full of knives before locking up her apartment and heading into the heart of Shalom. The only sound was that of her boots hitting the cobblestone pavement as Millicent wandered through the empty streets, palming a knife as she neared the clock tower. It was a place that she visited frequently, on the nights were sleep was near impossible and the risk of going out past curfew was worth the spectacular view from the clock tower. As she neared it, Millicent raised her head and gazed up at the tower with awe in her eyes. It was the one place in the city that she could go without anyone knowing where she was. Sometimes, she thought, it is good to be lost, if only for a little while.

Millicent approached the chained off doors to the clock tower and paused, sheathing her knife in a belt that wrapped around her waist. Carefully, ever so carefully, Millicent opened the unlocked door and climbed over the chains that should have stopped anybody from entering, but clearly didn’t. She tried not to rattle the chains, in case there were any Cracks in the surrounding streets that would be alerted by the sound. Once she was in, she was quick to close the door and take what was before her. A staircase wound up the center of the clock tower, some of the steps splintering with age. The stone floor was covered with dust and leaves that had blown in from outside and now rustled in a phantom wind. With her hand on the rail, Millicent ascended the stairs with careful footsteps. The stairs seemed to go on forever, and she went up and up until finally she stood at the top of the clocktower. The floor was made of wood that Millicent occasionally swept to get rid of the dust, and there were four walls that each help a large circular pane of glass in place. Many years ago, when the clock tower functioned, there were cogs and mechanics beside the glass that caused the hands on the outside of the tower to move. However, over time as people had less use for the tower, the mechanics were removed so that all was left were the frozen hands and the glass on which they sat. The glass on the right wall was broken, and Millicent made her way over to it and carefully perched on the edge, her legs swinging over the edge of the clock tower.

There were no clouds in the sky tonight. The moon shone brightly, accompanied by a scattering of stars that twinkled against the dark night sky. From that height, Millicent could make out distant figures on the streets of Shalom, most of which she expected were Cracks. She sat there for a while, admiring the way they moved in their various hordes, hunting down their next meal. Despite the monsters that roamed the street at night, Millicent thought the city was beautiful. From up here, she could see the bakeries that lined the docks, preparing cinnamon buns and pastries for the ship workers the next day. She could the Mayor’s offices, where she would be working hard the next day to keep the old man alive. She could see the town square, which bad been a bloodbath only a few days ago but now glistened under the moonlight.

She could see people.

Millicent froze her swinging legs and stared at the group of five, maybe six, people on the ground. They weren’t Cracks, she could tell by the numbers and the way they moved. She watched them with wide eyes: what were they doing out past curfew? It clicked in her then, suddenly, that they were probably Bodybringers. She sighed in relief, and watched them for a while. It was hard to see what they were doing from this height, but it seemed that they were making their way over to the town square. Millicent watched as they formed some kind of circle around something, and then suddenly they started disappearing. One by one, they climbed through what looked like a drain, until there were only a few left. Millicent chuckled to herself, stood up and brushed the dust off her legs. It’s time for an adventure, she thought, and set out to follow them.

She made her way over to the town square relatively quickly and without much trouble at all, which was strange for this time of night. When she reached the square, she looked around for the drain that they must have gone through. It took her a while, but eventually she found one that was ever so slightly ajar, and bent down to move it. The stench was terrible, but Millicent climbed in anyway and pulled the drain lid on top of her, concealing her in the darkness of the sewers. She unsheathed her knife and held it out in front of her, and listened. Millicent stood there for what felt like forever, until finally she heard voices and followed. The floor was slippery with piss and other foul things that Millicent gagged thinking about, but nonetheless it was an adventure, and Millicent was curious as to what a bunch of Bodybringers were doing in the sewers.

From what she’d heard from working in the Mayor’s offices, the Bodybringers had given up going into the sewers years ago after they went in and never came out again. She’d heard rumors of the kinds of creatures that lived below the Shalom, and if they were anything as bad as the Cracks then she saw no reason why anybody would be down there. But she was there, and so were those Bodybringers, and Millicent had no idea why but she was curious about what they were doing, and so she followed them, silent as a predator stalking its prey. The voices echoed and bounced across the walls, and there were many times Millicent had to pause and gather her bearings before continuing. She couldn’t be that far away from them, and as the voices became clearer she rounded a corner and there they were. Millicent stayed hidden in one of the many alcoves in the walls and watched as the group of them trudged through the sewers. They were all covered in thick layers of blood, and she couldn’t tell how much was theirs or something else’s.

“This whole journey is a dead end,” said one of them grudgingly.

Another one replied, “We’ve searched everywhere else. This is the only place she could be, even Fyn said so.”

The man that had just spoken seemed to lead them. His hair was ash blonde, and his face was tattooed with lines that looked like dashes that ran down one cheekbone, across the bridge of his nose and then up the other cheekbone. He had a handsome face, and as he moved Millicent saw the muscles flex beneath his clothes. At any other time, Millicent would have flushed or maybe even mustered up the courage to speak to him, but right now she was too busy following, slowly, carefully so that she wasn’t seen.

Round more corners, down more passageways full of shit, and finally the man that led them halted and held up a hand. As if he were commanding her too, Millicent stopped and ducked behind the corner.

“What the fuck is that?” said one of them, his voice laced with surprise. Millicent ducked her head around the corner to see, but there were too many of them crowding whatever they were looking at.

“Why haven’t we found this before?” Another said, female this time. The female in the group was being held between two males, and she looked badly injured.

The group began to filter through a small doorway, and finally Millicent could see for herself what they were looking at. She rounded the corner, and her mouth dropped open in shock. She was looking into what seemed to be some kind of temple, the walls so high and the ceiling so intricate that Millicent wondered how long it had been there without anybody noticing. The floor was made of dark stone, unlike anything she had ever seen before, and large white pillars held up the ceiling. As the group of Bodybringers gazed around, just as surprised as Millicent was, she slipped through the doorway and hid behind one of the pillars. Upon closer inspection, the pillars were not made out of stone, but rather out of human skulls. Millicent shivered and backed away from the pillar.

“Over here!” Somebody shouted. Millicent tensed, and watched as they all rushed over to the other side of the temple. At the other end, there was what looked like one large bathtub made of the same stone as the floor that had been drained of water and instead housed a liquid as dark as the night sky. But in the liquid, to Millicent’s surprise, was a body. The Bodybringers hauled the body out of the water, and it was a girl. No, a woman. Her body was stripped of any clothing she once had on, and instead dripped with the foul liquid she’d been soaking in. They laid her on the floor, and tried to wake her up. It took several attempts of mouth to mouth, before one of them stalked over and punched her in the stomach, which caused her to sit up in a flash and cough up a mixture of bile and the dark liquid. One of the Bodybringers, the one with the tattoos on his face, took off his jacked and put it around her shoulders. They all crowded around the woman, and they were talking too quietly for Millicent to hear what they were saying, so she turned away and looked around the temple.

Opposite the doorway she had entered through there was what looked like an altar, and surrounding the altar were many different sizes and shapes of porcelain bowls. Millicent furrowed her eyebrows and picked up one of the bowls, but there was nothing inside it. She looked at the stone altar, and read the delicate words that were carved into it: ‘KING OF KINGS’. The room was lit by a few candles, and Millicent had the sudden realization that it would probably be a good idea to leave, as whoever or whatever lighted those candles and nearly killed that woman would probably be back soon. Millicent began to quietly make her way over to the door, but then suddenly realized that in her wonder at looking at the altar, the Bodybringers had left, leaving her alone in the temple.

And then a knife was at her throat.

It was so sudden that Millicent barely had time to react, and instead let her hands drop to her side.

“Who are you?” Whispered a voice in her ear. The hairs on the back of her neck rose, and she swallowed. Millicent did not reply, and the knife pressed harder against her throat, drawing a thin line of blood.

“It doesn’t matter who I am,” she said, and before he could reply Millicent grabbed the arm that was holding his knife and flipped him over so that he landed on his back with an awful crunch. His face cringed in pain, and Millicent saw that the man who had just held a knife to her throat was the man with the tattoos. She bent down over him and held her own knife above him, in a casual but all-too threatening way.

“You know, ever since I followed you and your gang down here I really have been wondering what a bunch of Bodybringers have been doing lurking around in the sewers,” Millicent coolly, “care to explain?”

When the man didn’t reply, she took her knife and pressed it on the top of the zipper of his trousers, which earnt her a scowl. Millicent smirked.

“You work for the Mayor,” said the man.

“You work for Doctor Ellsworth,” replied Millicent.

“I’ve seen you around,” he continued, “is it true that he hired you out of pity after exiling your brother to the prisons Beyond Shalom?”

Millicent pressed down hard with her knife, and he groaned in pain.

“What’s your name?” Asked Millicent.

“Silas. What’s yours?”

She hesitated for a second, wondering if he was being serious, “Millicent.”

“Do you want to tell me why you’ve been following us?” Silas asked.

“Because I saw you enter the sewers and I was curious,” She didn’t bother lying to him, because anything he said against her she could report to the Mayor, which would coincidentally get him fired. “Why are you in the sewers?”

“Because my friend was taken by whatever lives down here.”

“You know what lives here?” Millicent was intrigued.

Silas shook his head, still wary of the knife she held over his manhood, “You haven’t seen them yet, have you?”

Millicent was confused, and Silas could see it on her face because he said “Whatever took my friend, it wasn’t a Crack. It was something….else.”

Millicent was suddenly scared, but instead of asking more she took her knife away and stood, offering him a hand up. He didn’t take it.

“Don’t follow us again,” said Silas, and with that he walked off. Millicent watched him go. What did he mean? Millicent had hardly seen any Cracks, let alone something else. And what was this place? What lived here? There were so many questions ringing through her head, and Millicent left the temple quickly, finding her way back to the town square in no time.

For now, she wouldn’t tell anyone about what she’d found. Not until she learnt more about it. Maybe Doctor Ellsworth would know something, since he is the only person in Shalom that researches the Cracks. Since she was going to his island tomorrow, maybe she would have a look around. But that was only if she could gain access to his office, and Millicent was too tired and way to terrified of finding her way home to think about anything other than what Silas had said. Something else. What is this something else? Millicent didn’t want to find out. She got back to her apartment with no difficulties, and locked herself in.

That night, Millicent didn’t sleep, and instead sat in her bed with a cup of coffee and a notebook, writing down everything she had seen and everything Silas had told her until the sun rose, and it was time to visit Doctor Ellsworth. 

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