Runic - Heart of Spoils

All life's a game for those who thrive in a world filled with them. In the wonderfully bleak realm of Sitic, a small band of misfits dwell in the only form of civilization where fun reigns as top priority, even if a little madness slips in unannounced. They explore the rabbit holes no sane soul would ever venture, much less find enjoyment in. They’re not the most stable group by any means, but making bliss from absurdity is quite a common practice among those who go about in crazed solitude. Outside, phantoms roam about seeking to enter their home and ruin what amusement bides within. Tensions are strung as the threats grow more and more lethal and the intruders become more and more dangerous. Life long friendships are tested. Battles commence. Something must give at one point or another, and slowly, losing one’s mind is become a better option as the days draw on.

Novel Website - https://www.crimsos.org/heart-of-spoils

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2. Chapter 2 - Heavy Roses, Flying Silver

 

 

“People ought to stop wishing for their dreams. Nightmares are dreams to.”

-Linus-

...

A masterpiece of snowy marble was there to greet Zafer as he went inside, letting the door hang free. A vast sea of floor tiles gave way to large glass tables, velvet seats, and a candlelit bookcase of paper blocks containing stories from long ago. To finish this foyer off, grand pillars of all elegant designs held up a staircase twirling to the second floor. He at times imagined what it would be like if the house suddenly burst into color, to have every hue show their bombastic faces with pleasurable smiles, but such thoughts were often dismantled before they could fully materialize. The castle was a majesty indeed. He waved the door shut without looking back and smiled, because a voice had just rocked his ear drums gently.

A woman was descending the staircase, one with a stride soothed by bare feet, and a humble dress the color of an ocean's dark blue abyss. Her neck length hair waved down in large curved locks, each one either pitch black, or pure opal. It was a bodily contrast that could easily pass as an unnatural mutation, if it wasn't so magnificent to look upon.

“Did you have a good night out?” She said again, this time close enough so that her words were clear.

Zafer smiled more. “Splendid, Creen. Sixty three skeletons reduced to crumbs.”

“Oh, that's certainly the best number so far.” Her eyelids slid partially down, and she smiled warmly. “Everyone was saying how the cemetery offered a decent space to fight and fool around. The skeletons seem to be congregating there lately.”

Zafer’s next phrase formed as an oddly shaped thought, and for some reason, it didn't wish to take on an audible form.

“Problem dear?”

“No, nothing of the sort,” he replied immediately, and then decided to let the thought out anyway. “Do you think the skeletons are gathering in that cemetery on purpose?”

“Why suggest such? Those with no souls can't possibly have any brains to begin with. Now, let’s save those kinds of topics for talk at super. It's almost ready.”

It was true, dinner was among the small handful of times that prompted everyone in the castle to come in one spot, and commune on nearly everything. They were mostly left to their own devices. Some traveled abroad, others stayed in their chambers, while some meandered between the two. Gatherings of any kind brought together ideas with their close company, something that was very much needed in a world of few living inhabitants.

“I’ve set the table with some of our prized decadents I crafted a week ago.” Creen’s eyes were onyx pebbles that bore bottomless depth. “There’s fresh vegetables, rice, and even a small round of Night Griffin meat, a rare find. Everyone is sure to enjoy everything.”

“Someone’s been busy.”

“Always dear, always filling up time with indulgences. It’s a necessity.”

They strode by a waist high pillar with a vase on top. There were a few severed fingers inside it.

The dining room spaciousness housed a long table draped with a frosted blanket, built to seat many, and a vibrant array of food littered its top. A large chandelier hung idly above, glistening away with crystallized gemstones and light. It was always surprising to see what Creen could conjugate for occasions like this. This must have taken hours, but Zafer knew not of how much time she had actually devoted, he never did. They both sat together on the farthest side, not only to leave room for everyone else, but they could also share sentimental closeness and pass kind glances and smiles between them, like playing catch with a dove. Now, all that was left was to wait for the parade to begin, for those who wanted a good time to come around this lavish table of food and share comfort. Everyone normally arrived at separate intervals of time, because they lived in scattered portions of the castle, each devoted to their own task and pleasures. And now, all those pleasures and people would soon come together and mix into a supersaturated tide of influence.

How lovely could such a gathering be?

A skipping pair of flats padded from a nearby hallway, joyfully growing louder. Then, right as the sound came a foot of the dining hall entrance, it stopped and changed to a normal walking rhythm. A young girl entered, an adolescence, at least, that's what an unwitting mind would think. Her maid's attire was mostly black with silver buckles for shoulder straps, all blemished with curved white designs stitched on the fabric. Her eyes and hair matched like two arctic tourmalines, for both were filled with an ultramarine blue that bleed through their strands, one razor sharp, the other flowing down her shoulders.

Creen passed on a smile. “Vixie, you’re always the first to show.”

The girl answered after taking a seat near the middle. “Yes, well, I was searching for a few fingers that went missing from my collection. So I was close by anyway.”

“Check in the attic yet?” asked Zafer.

“Yes sir, but don’t allocate worry towards it. I’m sure they’ll turn up sometime.” Vixie’s frozen stare snowed across the table. “The food looks good.”

Another soul strolled in, this time with steps unheard. Perhaps a ghost had entered, because his bald stapled face was pale to the point of hollow depth, vapid for eternity. However, his gleeful smile of silver plated teeth reminded everyone that there was life somewhere in there. The man plopped down two seats down from Vixie, flipping his blood red trench coat to make room.

Zafer spoke. “Barden, I'm sure you’ve been entertaining yourself since the last time we saw you a couple months ago. I hope the seventh floor is clea-”

“Oh yes! Clean as scrubbed plaster! Not a ghost or geist in sight.” Barden’s bright gold eyes glowed fiercely. “I even ridded the castle of our lasting lich problem. Now I can actually sleep at night without an axe by my bedside” He glanced Vixie. “No more nightmares for you, darling. They’re all gone.”

“That’s a pleasant bit of news,” said Creen. “I’ll go around and check the windows tonight to make sure no more get in. We still have yet to figure out who left them open yesterday, but, you know, harping on a simple accident is petty.”

“Maybe it was me while I was sleepwalking.” Vixie’s arctic eyes tilted up, as if to apologize to the chandelier. “Maybe that’s also why I can’t find my fingers.”

The next person to arrive was heard by voice long before her wild footsteps clapped in everyone's ears. She entered as if coming across a barbaric party fit for jesters, laughing and chatting about the most absurd violence imaginable. Perhaps a crazed welder had went havoc on her young body. There were no ears, just earmuffs made from copper, and brass caps had long since replaced all her toes. However, the coned narrow horn jutting upwardly from her forehead was what never failed to draw everyone's attention, its dull yellow gleam reflecting only a tiny speck of light. With a disjointed stride her steps clicked along, but she swayed her hips regardless of what metallic mutations weighed her down.

“Looks like the unicorn made it!” Barben’s chuckle was doused with hysterical amusement.

The wild horned girl scraped out a chair and seated across from him, leaning over with a smile crooked by a K9 tooth. “My name’s Sigit you egg faced fiend!”

“Oh, is that true?” Barben’s chuckle grew to laughter. “You twinkle toed wrench!”

“Nickel mouth!”

“Rag wearing brat!”

Sigit stopped short of her next throw, her hot pink colored eyes burning a glare. “Have you not heard? There’s no point in keeping a big wardrobe if you're alone most of the time. Just go around in underwear. Who cares?”

“Oh, have you not any class?”

Both of them stopped, however, when a droning aura vibrated their pores. Creen’s gaze was an umbra that could drown out a siren. “Aimless bantering will only lead to more bantering.” She traced her words as an ominous chirp. “Leave those kinds of conversations for after dinner.”

Zafer nudged his wife. “Oh come on, there just sharing each other's passion. Hey Sigit, I broke my record and downed sixty three skeletons tonight. How does that sound?”

Like a startling vice, the girl’s complexion tightened. “It sounds like you spent way too much time out there. What's the fucking deal? Our contest had us go out for equal times every night in the cemetery and crack as many skulls as possible. But now, you score is twice mine!”

“Are you calling a fowl?”

“It has to be!”

“Six minutes was our timer. Maybe I’m not the one who out of place here.” He pointed.

Sigit touched her horn and grunted. “Not funny.”

Vixie robotically cupped her mouth to hide a smile, while Creen looked around and past the hallways leading out the room, scanning for any new arrivals who had accepted the invitation to dine with company. When she was certain no one was coming, she took up a wine glass and waved it airily. “It appears that everyone who wanted to come is already here, and we came welcome any of those who are late.” She offered a smile for all to find soothing comfort in. “So, let's eat.”

Their feast began, devouring an immense stock that had taken weeks to get hear and prepare, only to have five take from its value. Some ate in timid silence, others in messy whispers and remarks across the table. Glass clattered. Plates clinked. Light plumes of steam rose. Through the middle ground noise, Creen looked up with a hint of bewilderment, and peered over to her husband.

“Dear, wasn't there something you wanted to bring up earlier?”

Sigit peered flatly over. “Like another dumb mention of your new record?”

“Not this time, no.” After devoting time in making sure everyone’s eyes were turned his way, Zafer’s skulking smirk showed again, setting his own glass down with a smothered clink. “Actually, I wasn’t entirely sure how to bring this up, but as always, you know how to speak my mind.” He delivered a warmer clime to Creen. “Nothing different has happened outside these walls for a long time, so some of you might think this is some kind of joke.”

Barben cut in. “Bla! Keep it to the point, not wordy!”

“Yeah, well, I was doing my usual combat rounds with the cemetery skeletons when something strange happened. All at once, they suddenly stopped attacking, not one of them moved. Then, they all just retreated back into the ground, as if they were scared.”

For a second, everyone stopped eating completely and brushed each other’s reactions, looking around.

Vixie’s tone was shallow ice. “That’s certainly not the status quote. Is this for certain?”

“I would bet my brain on it. Thinking on it more, It seemed as if they were pushed back by a force; A spell perhaps? But I didn’t see the caster. All those mana users died out quite some time ago.” Zafer looked over, now with a straight lined mouth. “In all these years of going up there and getting involved with them, they never showed any sign of shared intelligence.”

Creen’s head merely tilted off axis, looking back with eyes dilated with unsureness.

By now, Sigit was leaning halfway across the table. “That’s a packet of smart words, but we hadn't seen any signs of this ‘shared intelligence.” She promptly did a pair of quotations with her fingers. “Maybe a phantom somewhere finally got sick of our crap and decided to haunt the entire cemetery. That would explain why the skeleton hoard acted all at once.” Her spouting was about to continue when a flying spoon clashed with her cheek. She girl rubbed where it left a red imprint.

“Silly goose!” Barben cackled, teeth flashing. “Phantoms can only take hold of one man, not many.”

“Did you throw a spoon at me to say that?!”

“Oh no dear girl, that was to get you back in your seat.”

“To bring the lot of you back into focus,” Zafer snapped. “I know this seems like some stupid idle claim, but remember, changes of this sort almost never happen around here. Keep that in mind.”

Sigit stopped rubbing her cheek. “Can I still go up there? Your sixty three record needs a piece of my mind. Or is all this a scheme made so that your score can't be broken?”

“Get off the score. I can't tell you what to do, so yeah, fine, go up there.” Zafer ran some fingers through his hair, and made a face that was equal parts confused and irritated. “You know, why would you even ask that? You know the rules - leave everyone to their own devices, just don't cause a mess.”

“She’s just asking for trouble,” Barben clapped in glee. “Remember what she said last time we dined together? It was 'I’ve been a heap of trouble ever since my little bloody baby face popped out my mother's gut.’ Oh yes, that was it for sure.”

Creen arched over the table. “Please, let my husband speak.”

“Yes, it’s hard to listen over everyone else.” Vixie added quietly, almost too quietly.

Zafer nodded. “Sigit, it’ll be your turn to go up to the cemetery tomorrow night. You still plan on going up there, right?”

“Duh.”

“Alright, when you come back, I want a synopsis of what happened, a report of sorts. Understand?”

The girl sighed sharply, but smirked afterwards. “Whatever, anything you say boss man.”

With the concern noted and situated, the congregation returned to enjoying a mostly peaceful meal. However, if their inner minds were to be audible, Vixie would had made everyone go deaf with bleeding ear drums. A anxious stigma spiked her brain, and she often took a glance up and around, hoping that her missing fingers would be somewhere in sight. Every thought flew over the cuckoo’s nests and rammed hard into a wayward land with no sound. The girl’s nervous hands gripped around her spoon in hopes of receiving their tension, and when that wasn’t enough, she played with her hair, trying to find enjoyment in its velvet texture.

Sigit lifted her eyes and cautiously floated their direction to Vixie, all with an earnest offered to no one else.

But Creen raised the question first. “Vixie, what’s wrong?”

Vixie paused on playing with her bright spring waterfall. “It’s just as you see it, only a mix of worry that will go away once I find what I’m looking for. There’s no pain. Trust me, I'm fine.”

“Are you sure,” Sigit asked.

“Oh yes, quite sure.”

Above them, a rattling shift went unnoticed.

In every bit of honesty, Zafer would have enjoyed this dinner more if the gathering had been larger. With a castle this massive in a realm swathed in emptiness, seeing more faces would have brought a greater notion of fulfillment. Sure, he and Creen were in charge, but neither of them imposed forceful rule of any kind. Everyone could do what they wished for so long as everybody played their part in maintaining the castle’s health, rather that be in the form of cleaning, cooking, or crafting. Those of the likes of Sigit, Barben, and Vixie, always came along, and perhaps Zalice or Lear, but there were still a good handful of others that seldom attended.

Maybe it's the time, he thought. Having these at midnight is a bit steep.

However, that couldn’t be true. It was always night time. Everyone had their own sleep cycle. So whatever they were off doing had to be more important than a widespread antre.

“Hey miss unicorn,” said Barben, with a voice coaxed in trailing excitement. “It seems that our meal is lacking in spectacle. How ‘bout a dance to liven up the show?”

Sigit’s bright amber eyes reflected back his wave of rhapsody. In one fluid motion, she reared up and effortlessly hoisted on the table, without so much as even touching any of the silverware or delicate pottery. In fact, the girl displayed such balance that the table cloth hardly shifted. After a playful bow to everyone, she said, “So how does everyone want this dance?! Will it be fast or slow, smooth or ravaged, shirt or no shirt?

“I would mind it better if you kept all your clothes on,” Creen warned. “I don't want your hospital gown to get food stains. How about a slow dance to calm the mind?”

Sigit smiled, and bowed again. “A slower paced performance, consider it done.”

Everyone watched, because despite her unnatural extremities, her movements flowed like smooth liquid brass. She spun in serene movements in coordination with every limb. Barben seated the piano and began a melody of light, fluttering keys. Sigit moved across the snowy runway as if every obstacle was a landmine concealed in disguise. Her dull grey hospital rags and her unkempt pale yellow hair provided a striking focal point in the room for all to see, no matter who they were. And subconsciously, all the men knew she had one of the most endowed physiques anywhere, in all the right places.

The light plethora of notes ended just as she made a final pose to finish the dance routine off. Everyone clapped and praised, even Vixie.

“Practice has done a number on you.” Zafer’s comment was made loud, so that all could hear it.

Sigit was panting. “Lots of alone time can do wonders to a person. But I’m still calm after my shows, so thanks.”

Silence returned, and this time it would stay until, one by one, everybody would leave the room with a filled stomach. Barben was first to finish his food. He stood with a dangerous smile that crawled ear to ear, said a wild farewell, and left as if nothing had happened, as if time would continue making the seconds equal in meaning, equal in emotion. Zafer watched him go, and simultaneously, Sigit tossed her last apple slice and caught it in her mouth, also concluding a splendid outing with the odd family. She exited the room embodying a strutting pace as her toes softly tapped the floor tiles. Vixie was the last to finish, as usual, taking her time. She tapped her mouth with a napkin and bowed kindly once she was standing just outside one of the exit hallways. Skipping paces echoes as she left, leaving Zafer and his wife to look abroad a blank table.

“And then, there was none.” Zafer’s remark threatened to die at completion, but remained audible.

Creen slid her chair closer to his. “No, there’s two left, and they won’t be parting ways tonight.”

“A hint for later?”

“I’ll leave it at that. There’s dishes to clean.”

Zafer watched as she slicked a lock of hair behind her ear, and rise to pick up the first stack of plates. It was a blatant gesture, excessive even, but no one else could call it a mess, for no one else was watching.

Another rattle from above, but it remained hidden.

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