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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6. Chapter 6 - Pacifist

 

 

“Here, without possessions or enemies, where the jesters pass deceptions back and forth, is the only place in which conflict will not form. Now take away all but one jester. What then?”

-Kugo-

...

“You’re just a little ghoul”

Down, down there in the castle’s underground complex lied a whole fun land of dungeons and chambers all mazed together in a complex underworld. It was all the torches and turnabout doors and whispers all one mortal man could imagine, and then some. There was plenty of devotees to swallow time with in this place. Who needed life up there when down here was all fine and dandy? Cobblestone walls made the world warm as memories once shared collectively scattered about, alone, in search of open water to go sing by themselves.

“You’re just a little vampire.”

Blood sucking and clawing at foes was far too timid. Only peeling skin from muscle insured that dead bodies remained dead. In fact, why stop at that? On the undivided house where freedom reigns supreme, why not indulge in life’s blemished theme park of satisfaction? He used to sit tidy on a gilded throne while damsels did whatever orders they were given, and servants stood behind every command no matter how gruesome or distraught. However, they, the damsels and servants, had all but vanished as slow moving madness unwillingly replaced them. Now, all this little vampire had left was fine group of gargoyles and other stone cold minions to follow his will, without feeling, without emotion.

“You’re just a little goblin.

Wielding clubs and axes alike grew dull in times where the greatest enemy was a shortage of rabbit holes to fit the mold, middle stones that held up great aspiration. But hacking away at humans was only pleasing when done with a group, or even a pair. Practically, this was impossible now, being all the way down in the castle’s catacombs where no one cared to venture, not Zafer, nor Creen, not Vixie, not even Sigit. His grimacing goblin glares drove such people away, leaving him to contemplate and dwell in the comforting lull of mysticism.

“Oh, how is it so? You are lost.”

“Silence brain!” I am none of those things!” Barben raised his giant wine goblet with a smile so wicked indeed. “I will not forget this life, at least! Sing for me not when you’ve been molded by peace!” He rose from his chair all mighty and took a walk upon his small dungeon world of high rising halls and chambers, passing his posy of gargoyles ready to act on command. They were automatons built by his own hands. Their stone cold callused claws could make a bloody marionette from an unsuspecting victim. Just take the ligament strains and make sure to keep them connected to the bone, as you pull them out. Perfect.

Barben’s eyes were yellow dwarf stars as he went about his facility, watching the torches flicker madly to some possessed dance. Lavish treasure chests were all stacked prostate along the walls, along with piles of shiny things and crowns which glimmered gold. He was no king, however, just a soul who wandered a castle’s underworld in search of fun. His wardrobe of lavish robes and boots were all not gathered by his own hands. Oh no, they were collected by his gargoyle minions who went to castle’s upper sector asking for riches nobody wanted anymore - some of Vixie’s wristbands, Sigit’s old necklace, Creen’s antique hair clips, the spear Zafer never used, the list was pretty long. There was no need for personal involvement.

These desolate floors layered down farther than one man could count. Creen once described the castle’s underground abyss as having more floors than even Grove’s Forktown dungeon, each floor containing its own unique ecosystem and climate, from dusty rooms to aquatic landscapes straight from a fairy tale book. But Barben never bothered to journey that far. Fear of getting lost made sure of that. His imagination sufficed enough, and living on the peaceful top level provided plenty of time to do just that, imagine.

Barbens’s head ravaged with thought as he stepped foot into his favorite chamber. It was a small square room all well cushioned with a decedent king’s bed and red royal rugs making the floor bleed, a sheer difference from all his other cells.

But what of those skeletons? The question rose again, and again and again. Zafer was absolutely right. Having intruders was something new indeed. And intelligence to match? Also curious.

“Oh yes!” His voice rang like a billion bats chirping. “Who can act as such without even a brain to think, or lungs to breathe, or a heart to feel?” He reached under his bed so lovely and pulled out the good old castle handbook. Everyone was required to have one in their main living quarters. It detailed a bird’s eye view of every room, upstairs, downstairs, and lower. Five hundred pages of pure numbing text, what fun! He flipped to page three eighty five where it listed each lifeform that skulked in the realm of Sitic. Fairies, ghost, specters, even griffins flying about among the far off mountains. Of course, thousands of creature types dwelled in the under dungeons as well, and there were plenty.

He smacked the book against the wall anyway, because there was no written indication that skeletons could ever infiltrate such a well kempt stronghold. He suspected they were coming from the underworld floors, somehow, but that idea was struck down as well. Oh, and there was no punishment for misusing the handbook, yet.

So there, lying in bed thinking about undead airheads and hypocritical procrastination, Barben watched the wall mounted torches cast dim afterglow across his well lavished room, hoping that his dreams would consist of waking up in six hours or so and do what people like him do, cause little pain to others and inflict much pleasure to himself. His pajamas were checker boarded with googly-eyed snakes. Creen liked the way they just kept staring at everything. Sigit didn’t like it though. She thought they were all staring at her because, well, her.

But then, a bump, then a little rattle came from outside the open doorway. The boogeyman seldom visited bedrooms where monsters already slumbered, and Coco was busy peeping elsewhere. Then who? A banshee? A bold wraith? Barben slugged out from his blanket and crept forward. His eyes glinted yellow, steering their haunted glare wayward in caution. Oh, but wait. None of this was necessary

“I need a gargoyle here pronto!”

At his word, one came all stone cold and calloused dry, wings folded. It bowed to its master rigidly.

“Did you happen to hear a bump in the night?” he asked.

The gargoyle remained inert.

“Well did you. Got a cold tongue?”

Still nothing.

Barben batted an eye. “Fine, no questions. Tell me if you heard a bump in the night.”

The monster’s stiff hinged head nodded to say no, then left when its simple objective was complete. Such mechanical servants, they were. Woe had gotten rid of all the others.

But then, another bump, then a second little rattle came from outside the open doorway. The wolf man seldom visited bedrooms where a monster already slumbered, and the hell bound clown was busy peeping elsewhere. Then who? A Poltergeist? A riled specter? Barben gave up on rote responses and went out there, out there in the dungeon hallway of erie gloom calmness. Perhaps Sigit had come down here to get her necklace back, or maybe Vixie actually liked that wristband after all.

Another bump. A louder rattle.

Oh boy, little Barben was all too disturbed to think this was any of his friends. He stepped into a chamber, then another, another, only to have riches and empty memories say their stagnate hello. He remembered the time when real, soul bonded maids roamed about, talking to each other, sharing that of which tied the world’s anger and kept it in check, akin to the days where Tance’s Dreamscape was still humming along in everyone’s brains while light flashed in their eyes. Now, every maid had wings, and could not move unless told to.

A bone ivory blur scurried across the hallways in front. Barben took chase, with his well-done robe flowing behind like a crusaders cape from long ago. He passed the fountains where the once living servants bathed, the beds where they slept, the rooms where they chatted about Zafer and Creen’s engagement, sometime ago. Or was it an eon ago? The skeleton was fast and nimble having no extra weight to slow it down. But he was getting closer ever so slightly, so much as he had a vampire’s stamina, a ghoul’s endurance, and a goblin's tenacity

“No, I take that back. I’m none of those things. Stop it Tervia!” Barben snatched a small bottle of mana from his sock and drank it. He morphed a neon red wisp to his hand to set the dungeon aflame in light. Darkness drained out. Seeing was easier. It wasn’t a laser beam like Sigit’s, or fire like Zafer’s, but useful nonetheless. All was a blood colored glow, and in the gleam the gutless strider moved with a shadow blacker than lightless space. In this red, this dew dropped red, flashes of those fallen by his lack of action came bursting forth like desperate fireworks. Each one was asking for another chance. Or at least a reason for their death.

“You’re a lost one.”

“Cut it out, stupid brain!” Barben’s heated cackle was called short, because the skeleton had stopped in a chamber larger than the rest, one with no torches and no way to see it except through the light that bleed. A new sound entered the fray. Crunching, softly, then into something hard. Yet, the skeleton looked as though it was feasting on nothing, just imitating the moves needed to do so. Its teeth clamped like a mechanized jaws immune to emotion, a clockwork rhythm of teeth meeting then parting. Barben stepped closer, not wrapped by fear, but rather by desire to see this through, whatever it was. What an odd display. Was this creature playing charades? Finally, an undead soul performing a wondrous show just for him! Why else would it come all the way down here? All the trouble of having an unwanted visitor was fruitless if no results came about.

Barben was about to curse at his brain one last time when travesty returned. A static flash warped the space. His eyes instantly dilated with a new, more disdain gloss that peeled back the combines of natural order. When the flashed flickered away, the skeleton’s previously fake performance seemed all too real. Moving under its latticed body was a man, young in age, terrified in expression. His body writhed in crimson and uprooted tendons. Shrieks cracked the air. The body tried moving out of reach but the skeleton’s hard fingers dug into his back, preventing escape.

Other than that, silence. Barben watched as this ravaged soul squirmed every time those marrow jaws came down and bit off another small chunk. Skin tore like wet paper. The color of his clothes was unclear, for blood had soaked them. Movement slowed. The young man was still fully conscious, but with eyes looking at nothing specific, moving little. Barben walked closer but the scene only drew back just as far.

As a final act to this show, the skeleton’s bones pulsed under a different stress, bulging out and becoming filled with Heme Iron, red, as half formed eyes flicked open in its eye sockets. Flesh formed between its ribs, exposed, along with its legs, its mouth, its arms. There was no skin, just all else.

That was all. Progression stopped. The partly made body of exposed flesh and bone stood there, some parts missing, others shriveled. It was quiet. The young man from the past begotten laid dormant. Creations done up by lethargic rule never ended this way. Now, two souls stood still, one with glinting yellow eyes, the other with eyes that had never seen a true lighted child, bloodshot and malformed. And where lighted children once dwelled, nothing took its place except adherents made from stone.

The exposed body feel forwards, smacking the hard dungeon floor. Simultaneously, it vanished, leaving nothing but an empty room, no skeleton, no young man, no tortured gore. Pajamas? Please. Why not put a nightcap on your head just to drive it in more. You clown. Barben, unfazed, stepped out into his hallways of those who relinquished causality. Biting a sweet tongue, he strolled along the abandoned sanctuary that once housed many, now few, now one. Unlike the rest, there was no companion or wife to hear from in times where reassurance was golden. In one room was a women being tortured for unproven crimes. In another, a child witnessed his parents being nailed to shipwrecked boards, just for breading new life. Those, who which had nothing to do with harm or malice, were brought into such rooms and slowly maimed. Unwanted adultery, blasphemy! Harmless to all, except for the king. Stealing, put him to flogging. Abandonment, utter disaster. There was no absolution. The young man, eaten alive, was just another fun form of torture.

In secret, Barben’s core was all too distraught, but oh what wonderful pleasures awaited, all while thinking of every new life as a new era, even though so much history had already passed through his arms. Its spite dug into everyone, even though brain filled with unyielding greed, swallowing their homes for places where fabled riches could be piled high. All who suffered we're no more. Forget the unease.

He flipped out the wrinkled castle handbook again and found nothing about heartless deities casting spells on those who deserved it not, or anything regarding the idea of skeletons eating illusionary corpses. He sat in bed again in a land fallen far and wide. He thought about going to the first floor and asking Sigit if she had been seeing nightmares in reality lately. The girl had been in recovery for the past week now; a shoulder that wounded would take at least two more to fade away. Vixie was a valued healer after all, not that there was any doubt.

Wait, he had already lost his train of thought. He had just witnessed a grotesque display of lethal proportions, but mysticism had already clasped tight. Another neon red wisp bloomed in his hand, floating there and waiting to be used like beacon. Staring into it was more entertaining than gazing up at old walls. Barben’s dry grey skin flared in the light, a silhouette that could be watched without growing tired.

Once the next sleep cycle came and went, the monster of many robes walked among the castle’s upper deck, into rooms where he said hello to vacant beds and walkways, into open porches overlooking a very unnerving landscape of green acid rivers and mountains that would never show a lighter color than dusky black and green, just like the sky. Only seldom did this landscape show its far off secrets through the indigo overcast.

When peering through windows wasn't enough, there were always snow colored architecture to stare at, or to scoff at. Scoff here, or in someone else's face. Just go around and analyze objects until no one cares anymore, all without acting. No one listened, not anymore. No one laughed at them, or admired his expensive glistening collection of rare things. No one’s chatter amounted to anything that mattered. One mind could only entertain itself for so long. Each little facet that was left had all been devoured already. So what was left?

There was a place in the castle’s upper level that always welcomed uneasy thoughts. It was left of the foyer, a long narrow room just short of being considered another hallway, mostly of bland beige paint. An elegant fireplace sat flickering at the far wall, its soft pyre eating at wood that never seemed to decay. Flames, these flames were not of the usual sort, for they embodied a grand spectrum of color from blood orange to ultraviolet. Each distinct shade lapped over his clothes. This was Zafer's favorite place to toss those old fairytale books no one cared about. This was also where Sigit practiced her dance routines before showing the world.

As for himself, well, the fireplace was built by his own hands, and the colorful fire had been brewed from years of tinkering with different types of mana, mixing some, sometimes causing explosions that caused Creen a good scare. And yet not two of them had ever entered this space together. The walls only saw one inhabitant at a time, never to see communication between two mouths. Being the only pinpoint of color in the entire realm, those who were born here, which were none, would have to come here to see such a display.

However, was such a fire necessary now? Everyone who lived here had magic, and could produce their own color what-not. They could just make their own hued fireplaces.

“Ba! It's just another vanity worthy of trash!” Barben cackled again. “We’re the show now, not this, not some mere soulless pit!”

True enough, thinking of long passed catastrophes was essentially wasteful. He cackled once more and hurled a magic wisp at the flames. The pit went up in sharp red conflagration for perhaps a few seconds. But his hands shivered, somehow, for some reason feeling the guilt of his action.

Several light footsteps from the entrance.

“Easy there.”

Barben whipped around only to have his alertness settle down. Creen walked in like a poltergeist returning to its favorite object. Her eyes, two inked pebbles, floated forwards and appeared lost there. The woman wore a tapestry gown straight from a nursery rhyme, pure white, because to her, that was the color of nursery rhymes.

“What do you mean?” Barben asked.

Creen turned, gradually. “Oh, just talking to the fire is all. Or I should say your fire.” She offered a smile. “Thank you for bringing it to life. I wish more were able to see the beauty in notions like this.”

“Like Zafer?”

No response. She eased out a very peculiar looking scroll from her blouse and held it gently. It was made from thin spider webs, or at least no one could ever hold something with that much care.

“My husband instructed me to toss this parable away for good.” Creen’s head bowed slightly. “Well, I’m over exaggerating. He just implied that old stories were worth as such.”

Lost in the waters of her eyes, Barben was suddenly put off his feet and hung stagnant in midair. He had assigned the fires lesser words just a minute prior. Had this women heard? Oh no, not in a home where only a handful lived. Please, no.

But Creen, wordlessly, dipped her free hand into the burning whirls, as if heat was simply a mock sensation invented by paper bystanders. She cupped out the wisp all red and bright neon even though fire wasn't solid, holding the red sparrow as if were a red sparrow. It burnt away above her fingers now that it had no fuel left. Nothing. The wisp had vanished.

“Good, now nothing can bother you,” she whispered kindly, and left, leaving Barben struck under bewilderment. The walls had seen their first duet. The scroll had never left her grasp.

Barben returned to his bedside underground, but did not climb in. Bewilderment turned to confusion. Confusion turned to apprehension, and from there it was simply a blur. So many servants died for a life they felt they would only forget. One emotion ruled them all. A new rabbit hole had been made.

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