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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7. Chapter 7 - The Promised Vale

 

 

“Take it for what it is. It’s going to the dirt sooner or later.”

-Heron-

...

It’s going to be okay.

They could not indulge in her dull bare radiance, yet the egg shells she stepped on were always so close to delusion.

Deep rolls of pain still ached in Sigit’s shoulder, though now they were growing farther and farther apart. Ever since that night shared in Vixie’s room, every bit of her pain seemed to have calmed dead. They had made another lunchbox from pure ghastly bones, another creation to remember that time by, a gesture to what could be felt when obsessions could be warped so haphazardly.

And now, Sigit and Vixie went out to play.

The two party fairies were prancing around the hallways like two sparklers let loose from their handles. Vixie was the blue. Sigit was the pink. And whenever they met their colors crossed and contoured harshly. Around them, the ceiling was magic, the walls were static, and the way yonder was a path that needed to feel company. Abroad thoughts normally thought by brains half their age, the girls could feel themselves blend into such childlike ways, where roleplay and costumes were not so pretend. Wishing time still for a year or two proved a possible outcome when homes were melody and had sweet moods all the time.

Vixie tossed her lunchbox up and caught it with an ice sculptured pose. “This new lunchbox is certainly more stable than the last one. I could even hold an animal inside it.”

Sigit nodded delightfully, watching her counterpart skip some more, witnessing her black velvet dress wave around as if controlled by a ghost who loved playing with icy eyed maids. She went up close and hugged her. It was the feeling of cool fabric pressed against her skin that made for a warm smile. Black sheep not found by little bo-peep had to herd together, and past their odd extremities and hues were softly delicate skin and souls. Readily soft. Sigit didn’t want to part the hug, but the silence had already drawn long.

“So how’s that shoulder?” Vixie asked.

Sigit looked at it. “Better. How’s your lunchbox?”

“Better, better than before.”

After several more session of hide-and-go-seek, board puzzles, and playing other more devious games, they sat prostate against the wall with the hallway stretching in both directions before them, farther than any imagination had time to care for. Sigit made sure her ear muffs were clamped on tight, and her horn was still screwed deep within her skull, feeling every part where living tissue merged with gold plated steel. Every time she fired off a laser beam, there were risks of damage to it. But so far, even after all these years, nothing serious had ever happened to that part of her body that made people point and say, “look, a myth”.

The floor was static, the doors were magic. Vixie looked over and admired how her myth-like friend had eyes which bordered between mahogany and plum, or perhaps it was her distinct eyelashes that caused this blur. She remembered when they first met, when this castle held many more than the small family that lived in it now. Chatter was abundant. Chitter was ominous. Back then, Sigit never spoke in edgewise, that is until she showed her a pretty necklace that the unicorn would always wear, until it wasn’t.

With generous instability, soft meeting stares, and fingers intertwined, they figured that having this time shared in desperate fondness was the only way to keep their hearts beating. Dealing with reality’s version of love was hardly satisfying.

“Hey, there been a thing I wanted to ask.” Sigit's words ventured far, but carefully. “When I woke up in the medical room last week, I was, well, I was kinda chained down to the bed. You were there, and you told me that I was chained like that because touching my screwed up shoulder would make it worse.”

Vixie leaned in. “That's true.”

“Ok, so was that all some illusion? Because after you kissed me I suddenly woke up again, except in a cozy bed, not a cold hospital one.”

Now Vixie’s breath drew longer than normal, as if realizing she had dropped another wishbone bracelet. “That’s also true. O dear O’ me, being restricted so tightly must have been uncomfortable for sure. But it had to be done.”

Sigit felt a tinge of unease. “I’m sorry. That didn't exactly answer the question.”

“Oh, oh of course, oh dear me. Yes, everything was real. I kissed you to orally give a medicine that can put anyone to sleep almost instantly. The injury needed healing time, and so did you. You looked so tired, so very tired.”

“Oh,” was all the unicorn could say, except for everything else. “That very rational.”

“Oh, thank you. Oh dear me.”

Sigit laughed.

“What?”

“That way you talk is the most interesting thing in the whole universe.” She stilled. “Why can't everyone talk like that?”

“Wouldn't that be boring if everyone did?”

“Oh yeah, that's right.”

Vixie’s eyes unsharpened a bit. “But why can't everyone look like you?”

Sigit’s face flustered. “My horn, stuff like that?”

She smiled, and stared intimately for a long time. “No, everything else.”

Their complexions floundered is some insane distilled happiness. Either it was passion or the feeling there of, being this close was the state of existence that mattered most, though solid matter possessions loomed not too far away.

“Everything else huh? Then let me show you.” Sigit gently pushed Vixie to the bare hallways floor and rose up top. Flirting more would only make them lose patience. Their bodies were close to share the warmth of each other's skin, but there were clothes in the way. But that could be solved easily. The maid's hands slipped under her friend's shirt, traveling from her lower stomach then grazing her sides. Sigit leaned forward in response, feeling relaxed and ready.

A few subtle clacks came chiming ever so softly in their ears, from yonder down the hallway.

“The hell?” Sigit was a bunny on alert. “No one ever comes up here.”

Vixie’s cheeks burned once again. “Perhaps whoever it is wants to see us do something funny?”

They glanced each other's faces and giggled like a raw sense a humor. Huffing in compliance Sigit yelled out, “Sorry bub, we’re keeping our clothes on now! You can shew away!”

Vixie chuckled softly and whispered in her ear can.

“And if you’re that skeleton guy, forget it! This is not turning into another stupid game of tag!”

Another clack and another rattle chimed in like a dead man's bell, this time a bit closer. A figure peeked around the far off corner where the hallway bent, an ivory shell of a head with pale exposed teeth and eye sockets.

“I knew it. They’re not going away.” Sigit unconsciously touched where her shoulder was bandaged. They watched this undead animal skulk a little closer with steps very bare and bony, but somewhere within was something ghastly.

It took another step, another, faster, walking, walking more, faster, running, not stopping.

“It’s charging for us!” Vixie got in front and slipped a ten inch throwing knife made of bone from her dress. She aimed well then hurled the blade straight. It split through air and stung the floor near the skeleton’s foot, a miss, but not a miss. The knife exploded into a blooming ice cluster that sprayed frozen shrapnel everywhere, an arctic grenade hidden under marrow.

But like a man stripped of his heart, the monster kept on trying to stand, stumbling on a new canvas fresh and frozen. The cold maid’s cheeks flared red because the embarrassment was fashioned under a friend. How could that skeleton still be standing? She flicked more knives out and flurried them onward. Ice blooms exploded making the floor her own grotesque skating rink, spikes and all.

And did the dead man stop fighting? Not a chance. A change was occurring. Its bones were becoming ghastly green, its body blurring up in mist that fumed like poisonous vapor.

“Oh, that's a new one,” Sigit mused, watching bone turn to phantom dust, watching hands turn to wraithlike claws, watching feet turn to weightless dust.

Watching the specter ghost fly towards them at wind speed.

Both the girls lurched back as the green hazed apparition flew within snatching reach with its body now bigger than both of them smushed together. Sigit charged up a pinked laser beam but Vixie knew it would be in vain. She pushed the unicorn out of harm’s path as the monster's haunting claws gripped her shoulders and dug in deep. Her lunchbox rolled free. The air turned cold with shrieks as each undead nail dipped under her skin. The ghost had Vixie held tight. It flew higher, higher, still rising with the maid clenched in its grip.

“Crap!” Sigit’s head buzzed in petrified terror. All this happened so fast. What the hell? She stumbled up and gave chase. The specter hovered fast. A red trail marked the floor in the monster’s wake. Vixie was bleeding badly as she squirmed around, screaming for help.

“Give her back you swine! I swear you’ll be sent to the grave!” She watched through bloodshot eyes as her friend wiggled to and fro trying to reach for a knife, but failed as agony took over.

“Stop!”

Firing a laser beam would be too risky, and the castle’s sheer vastness meant that the chances of someone else hearing these screams were slim. Sigit’s thighs burned with lactic acid. Her chest was beating its ribcage where each breath came out torn and ragged.

“Get back here! I’ll kill you!”

She was the pink. Her friend was the red. The ceiling was magic. The walls were static. Eggshell after eggshell with each one closer and closer to a lethal outcome. Making promises golden to the ones closest to hold no water when surrounded by a past brought down by the neglected, the people she let go to have this single person really close.

The heartless monster rose even higher, towards a whole carved in the wall, one deep and filled with Stygian. Sigit stopped dead and watched the specter float in as Vixie’s cries echoed out of range. How did anyone overlook this hole from the game earlier?

But the opening was just low enough that Sigit could stack a few tall tables and reach a good ways up, but her panicked mind made it hard to focus on anything but the worst. Still, she managed to sandwich three table, making a ladder. From there she pressed her fingers against the spaces between rungs, gritting teeth as blood rushed to her hands. Pulling up was painful. Keeping calm was impossible.

By the time she made that final heave up and over, her fingertips were bleeding and her throat had become sandpaper from constant panting like a desperate crow. And so, there the unicorn stood staring into a hole within a home already thought to be a myth. And yet even myths could feel maelstrom of heart pieces lost, stolen by heartless men. She went into darkness filled with the anguished cries of her only friend, but the echoes were lessening with each unsure step. How had this all go so horribly wrong. They were just having fun, creating memories to live by, and even falling for their blind feelings. And now it had all been relinquished in just under ten minutes.

“You there?” Sigit's voice was loud, yet with a slight waver. “Vixie! Hey, Vixie. Speak up, please!” She wiped her eyes and wished this was just a dream. Now it was solid black all around as the entrance disappeared from behind, leaving the walls as the only evidence that reality still existed. She kept one hand forwards and one trailing the rock to keep from falling.

“Where are you?!”

Her frame buckled under an oncoming doubt. Doubt for what? Of course Vixie was fine. She was smarter than anyone, more creative, and definitely could take more if a hit. She remembered when they first met, when others handed placid glares while their eyes alone passed something fervent between them. It was during a castle ball party, during the era of many mistakes and strobelite turmoil.

No ceilings were static. The walls were barren of magic.

A faint purple light glimmered its neon hue into her eyes, one that brightened as distance was made. It seemed that she had stumbled upon a dying star made from melancholy, matching in unpleasant harmony with hers.

And where did this light lead to? Well, Sigit’s brain was unable to shift so drastically at what wasteland awaited. The tunnel opened up into a chamber filled with fuchsia glow, a pocket of stale lambency that stung her eyes until her corneas burned like hot plates.

Then she realized what laid within this chamber.

It was a room of monsters. Abroad this teaming swarm of skeletons and ghosts, limbs and illusions moved likes masses as if a graveyard had been overturned to expose its bodies, all coated in color. Her ear muffs ringed with metallic hysteria, shuddering. Some were clumped in tall piles, others sprawled about the hard cold floor, a few hovering above, all moving. Though, as she took one bashful step forwards, none of them reacted. They were in a stasis. Sleeping? Or deep in a deep submissive being where the outside world dared not to interfere. Carefully did the fabled child tread across the cryptic land made firm by the friends she turned away. Oh, these eggshells were brittle like pinky bones, under weighted heels. Delusions were so close to cracking under the strain.

Then, somewhere within this world of unlife, a feeble stir struck out against the undisturbed mayhem. A chilled battered body laid near the corner. It was hardly responsive to the warmth outside, but still awake. Vixie’s eyes moved a little when Sigit finally managed her way over, stepping over legs and arms alike. She knelt down, holding back a heavy gasp, and held her friend’s head up slightly. She looked tired, likely from blood loss.

“Can you hear me?” Sigit whispered.

The maid nodded, wincing.

“Good, uh, that’s good.” Sigit peaked around. So far, their interaction hadn’t riled unwanted commotion. Those hollow eyes sockets remained strapped to an aimless wander as if the living world was unamusing. Above, the specters floated like dust caught in an atmospheric vacuum. Oh well, guess they didn’t like pretty little girls after all. This place was just a cesspool of questions.

Carefully, she slid her arms under Vixie’s body and lifted up, making sure not to stretch anything that was already colored in gore. Carrying the weight of another made each step heavy and strained, ankles burning, leg muscles constricting to support their new doubled weight, give or take a few pounds. With this black veiled bride cradled in her grasp, every banter from past friends always went to deaf ears, nothing else mattered, only this maid who had hair like a neon blue glacier. Impending doom was just dust laid underfoot.

Getting back down from this decrepit cavity was a near impossible affair with both arms burdened to carry an ice sculpture. She hopped onto the top table she stacked earlier and hoped that it wouldn't come tumbling down, swearing that if she dropped Vixie from this height, that a life’s worth of grief would be the least of her mental instabilities.

“O’ me, O’ little me, it hurts,” the ice sculpture whimpered.

“Hang in there. We’ll be in your room soon.” Sigit had pretty poison running through her system as she rushed to that place where bones did not have a life to themselves, but indeed choreographed in a complex display for all to see. Vixie’s room was located after another sharp turn right, then straight for a while, then right again, then left, right, left, left, then right. She could find it from anywhere within this colorless shell of rooms where all the world's oddballs dwelled with malicious smiles and goofy laughs. Out of the four shoulders between them both, only one hadn’t been disfigured within the past week. Simply brilliant. Maybe she would take one of her friend's bone knives and plow it through her only un-mangled shoulder to complete the set. Then the witches from yonder could sing their serein songs and have a grand get together and celebrate with cauldrons of deadly swill. On those rare occasions like this when Vixie ended up being the one hurt, Sigit felt farther away from her. Maybe matching injury to injury would make this static mindful distance not so utterly terrible.

Oh, now I’m getting ahead of myself

The bedroom greeted with its obscure art as Sigit bustled in and laid Vixie on the bed sheets, creasing them only a little. Now she was hanging in the whim of every near inaudible order her friend whispered as the unicorn scurried from here to there fetching bandages and thread. Vixie wasn't bleeding as heavily now, but exposed wounds were welcoming to infection. Just go here for a free meal of muscle.

“We don’t have time for anesthetics,” Vixie uttered, waving the bottle away. “Get on with the stitches. Make sure to go easy, and avoid weaving the needle too deep.”

Sigit nodded with wavering, worried eyes. Using that bit of advice and novice medical expertise, she was left only with two very unsteady hands welding tools that could easily cause more harm than good.

Vixie tried to keep still during the procedure that seemed bent on slowing time until it crawled half as fast. The needle was a searing hot stinger as it slipped in and out as Sigit began the procedure, battering her thin tenderized skin raw. This pain was a thick hot liquid that filled in and lingered, stretching her skin just a little so that it made her muffle all the little yelps of pang. Her legs twitched. Her hands squeezed into they lost feeling. Her eyes were ice caps that ran with bloodshot veins. At one point, Sigit weaved in a bit too deep and made Vixie flinch and tear up until one trickled down her face. Perhaps their minds weren't on the same page, or even on a similar spectrum of kindness. At least this was temporary, in theory.

Then, calmness, alongside a distant buzzing noise from a bombshell floating farther away. Vixie was winded, her cold frame rising and falling in hopes of expelling this pulsing unwelcomed heat. The procedure was done, finally.

They laid side by side in bed, staring up at the ceiling marble in desultory thought. Sigit wanted to get up and dance to perhaps dispel this melancholy, even though fake positivity was a show put on by fools. So she did. It was an awkward waltz on the bed sheets, maybe a limp here, or an unbalanced step there. What a lack of harmony. Well, if it was just them who cared, that was enough.

“Oh, dear, don’t go and do all that dancing,” Vixie’s sighed. “We can just lay here for now.”

The unicorn stopped, rubbed her shoulder awkwardly, and plopped back down. The muted gloom transformed their bodies into silhouettes filled with darkened hues. It was relaxing. There was no need to look at anything in particular. Just look anywhere. That was it. And gather some sense of peace.

A day mozied on by, relative at least. They both stayed in Vixie’s room and talked small, taking hours from time and holding it loosely between their fingers, lounging around, hanging off elastic strings that bounced slowly in the breeze. Sigit brought food from downstairs every so often. Not too much, though, maybe a baked potato one time, some salad mixture another. Meals were simple when Creen wasn't cooking up some culinary masterpiece.

“Thank you.” Vixie's crisp words were comfortable, as she peered down at the salad bowl.

Another day. Sleep was an ambiguity. Their sleep patterns almost never overlapped, so one girl was awake while the other slept, and when their cycles did occur in unison, the world was whimsical. Could fools really dream? With minds like lucid trap holes and feelings like lazy empathetic wanderers, nothing grew placid given that time still moved in sporadic paths.

Sigit was awake once again, this time not to her friend's involuntary twitches from having nightmares, but to a pair of feet echoing haphazardly outside the bedroom door. These padded clicks were drawing near. She slid out of bed with static filling her hospital gown, brushing away a toe bone dreamcatcher and a few wishbone chimes. Vixie's room was so charming. She took one the chimes off its string and swayed it gently in front of her eyes. Four hours passed. A few tears slithered down her face.

I don't know why this exist.

No. Wait. Stop it. She had to stop thinking about that now. Who was out there? Ghost didn't have footsteps, and no one really strolled up here unless invited.

She opened up and sighed, “No party here, go away” hoping that whoever was outside would simply buzz off. A blank strip of hallway said its amorphic greeting. There was no one in sight.

Yeah, I don't blame you.

Sigit quietly clicked the door shut and nestled back down very close to Vixie's sleeping form, face to face, feeling her chilled frigid breathes touch her nose. Her horn was slanted up slightly so their foreheads could almost connect, almost.

Six hours passed.

This time, Vixie’s eyes were already open when Sigit woke up. The ice maid's stare was straight up at the ceiling as if an orchestra had been playing up there, only that it had grown stale for a long time.

Sigit scooted closer. “Still feel like garbage?”

The maid peered over, smiling a small smile. “I feel better from a while ago. My pain has mostly been reduced to just my shoulders now.” Her eyelids lowered some. “And the stitches are setting in quite nicely. You applied them well.”

“Well, for someone who’s only done it maybe two time before, right?” Sigit’s voice was thin.

“Don't be so down on yourself. I’ll make a full recovery, trust me.”

A flue of footsteps came echoing from outside, again, touching over the door. The unicorn slid off the bed with eyes that glazed over in a much less worrisome coat, their plum filling soft and calm, knowing that things were only going to get better with both her and her friend awake at once.

She opened up.

She closed the door.

She shook her head.

She opened up again. A ghoul, vampire, or goblin? It was so unclear, oh so very troublesome to discern who this monster of a man was. But here he was, the one named Barben, standing there all robed in maroon red and white, yellow eyes glimmering their dim halo like tiny dwarf stars.

Sigit unveiled a sly smile. “Look who it is. It’s Mr. Stitch head.”

Barben’s complexion remained unchanged longer than expected, that is, until it did. “You look like a pile of rotten wood, and your shoulders all messed up. Though, your nicks and scrapes were always quick to go away.” His face spread into a snaggled grin. “Now what’s all this blood I’m smelling? I caught whiff of it all the way from my underground cranny!”

She stepped forth. “Stop yelling.”

“Or what? You wouldn’t put a laser in me, would you?”

Sigit, after a moment more in disgust, sighed and looked back where the fractured ice sculpture laid. “No really, please shut up. She’s trying to relax.”

Barben took note of her softer tone and looked wayward. Vixie had just turned to look at him, eyes dilated by the unexpected bright light blazing them.

Sigit did another sigh. “Yeah, we got attacked by a bunch of skeletons and specters about a week ago. As usual, Vixie saved my butt again, and now we’re bunkering here until she’s well enough.” Her eyes weighted down, with her horn catching a faded glint of something far off. “Not the best of times.”

They strolled on in and Sigit instantly locked the door with its large, skull faced key. The only good sources light were a few pale white lamps giving off the faint swathes, making shadows across everyone’s faces as if sitting around for a scary campfire story. Of course, these lamps were made from marrow.

“We were off playing when one of them attacked,” she continued, telling the tale about how two myths got into trouble with ghosts, one of them being abducted and maimed, and then rescued. The story was finished up with her volume lowered near to a whisper, as if monsters were close by with hands that loved kidnapping innocent jesters.

“Well, you didn’t have to tell me half of that tale,” Barben said. “I saw the big hole on my way here. You know, if someone were to scream, it would be carried a long distance throughout the castle.”

“Oh dear. Why bring that up?” Vixie asked, quietly. “My scream wasn’t that helpless, was it?”

Barben cackled once more. “Don’t get ruffed up. How pathetic sounding your scream was has nothing to do with it. However, since echoes have plenty of stamina in these hallways, I imagine that anyone could hear them loud and clear from a long ways away.

“What are you getting at?” asked Sigit.

“Well, it really seems that finding safety around here is not going to be an easy going task, especially with you two being near the, uh, let’s just call it the undead nest, that hole where the skeletons and ghost are dwelling, I guess.” His grin was wide. “Oh, and it just so happens that I have two slots open for anyone who wants to work as a servant for me in my wonderful dungeon home underground.”

“No way,” Sigit replied bluntly.

“What? Why not?”

“Because you’ll just have us play dress up and roleplay and whatever.”

“That’s not true.”

“It’s totally true!” The unicorn went up in some irritated ramble. “And us becoming servants? No way. Serving by your word would be, well, it would be crazy!”

“Now now, don’t get the wrong idea, mind you.” Barben took a stance normally associated with a school instructor, a nasty one. “You would not be doing such tedious work at all. You’ll only be in my dungeon for safety, to escape this little skeleton feud until it’s solved. You can do whatever you like down there, except the little bitty parts where I tell otherwise. Agreed?” His hands flailed around, his cloak flowing like a ill-faded ocean of blood. “My gargoyles will keep you company! Don’t worry! There’s plenty of fun games to be had in my house!”

Sigit was about to ramble a whole lot more, as in enough rambling to fill an entire wine goblet. But just before everything was spilled, Vixie urged her to come close in private, so their eyes could meet and mix their color.

“Listen, I know it looks that I’m safe here.” The maid’s complexion was calmly concerned. “But, these shoulder wounds will take quite a long time to go away. I’m not as fast as a healer as you.” She looked over at Barben’s expectant composure, then back. “We should move from here. Oh, dear. And the castle’s dungeon is the perfect place to relax and get away from all this.”

Sigit’s tone was thin. “But this guy’s known for killing his servants.”

“It’s better than the certainty of being killed here.” Vixie's eyes brightened just a little bit. “Besides, doing roleplay will be fun. We can dress up as fantasy queens and knights.”

All these doubts and dignified reasoning made for wonderful thoughts after all. Just imagine - playing in another’s shoes, wielding a sword or twirling a parasol. Perhaps a change in these walls was perfect for avoiding more calamity. Or not. They weren’t servants, per say. They would be visitors, or at least a form of company. Wanted company?

Sigit eyed the cloaked vampire, or ghoul, or goblin, or the potential predator that could inevitably make their lives far stranger. For certain, Barben wanted company.

And Barben stared back at her, expectedly.

“Fine,” she sighed, giving Vixie a velvet pair of eyes, smiling. “I go where you go, after all.”

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