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I went to buy a guitar on an Internet marketplace and entered the home of a serial killer

I am a troubled artist. Starving and stupid, my soliloquy serves as a stark warning; not superfluous by any stretch of the imagination, for in the Internet exist man-made horrors beyond human comprehension. My tale of terror took a trembling turn two hours ago, when I stumbled into a dark, damp dwelling deep into a rural suburb of my city.  Ah, context. Yes, you, the reader, considering that you’re consuming this letter with no knowledge of my name, need context. You may be wondering why I’m sending this to you, or who I am, and that’s okay. You don’t have to know my name, I only need you to understand my story and take it to whatever authorities you need to take it to. In time the truth will come out, yet the lives of the innocent victims shall never be returned to them, but it’s best now to nip it in the bud; to starve this beast of which I have been bellowing about internally for two hours.  I am Logan. I am a guitarist in a rock and roll band named Fire Kittens, and we were on the verge of making it big time. Talent directors decided that indeed, our work was derivative, but detractors were few and far between; we had developed a damn nice fanbase in our small West Virginia town, and our tones were teetering on the brink of amazing. We made the kids dance; rancid and sweaty, our seemingly simple songs became anthems for a generation of youngins in the rambunctious region, but image is the essence of showbiz, and our desaturated schemes were ultimately considered too boring to sign a deal with the regional record label that had recorded our EP and expressed interest in a contractual obligation.  Riverrat Records, those bloody bastards, banished our chances at superstar success, so I set out on a simple search; I was determined to discover a new look for myself and for the band. I needed a gimmick, and god dammit, a Gibson wouldn’t do it. I would’ve loved to have found a luthier looking to let go of a lick-making machine for a decent price, but my twisted fate would disagree with my requests. I loaded up CurbAlert, a modern day, multifarious marketplace, and mobilized myself in search of what would actualize itself to be a murderous merchant. Plummeting through posts of pet rocks and half-eaten sandwiches, I found her. She was beautiful, and I envisioned myself holding her in my hands as I peeked out into the crazy crowd calling my name. Narcissism is in the blood, and I knew that this would put me over the top.  She was a handcrafted guitar; off-white in color, the body rakishly resembled repulsively realistic human femur bones welded together, their bulbous edges shining in the photo’s ring lighting, and six imitation teeth were tacked onto the tiny headstock. Decorated with round knobs resembling the casing of a retina, the guitar was a horror hound’s wet dream, its realistic appearance akin to a Tom Savini special effect.  I had to have it, and I composed a correspondence to the luthier. His email address was [tremoloterror88](mailto:tremoloterror88@gmail.com)@protonmail.com, and I felt a cold chill while my chattering fingers were typing at blazing speeds. The email read as follows: “tremoloterror88,  I am a guitarist for local band Fire Kittens. We play shows at area bars, and I’m looking for a new guitar to spice up my image. I’m interested in purchasing the guitar from you and would like to work out some sort of deal. I’m strapped for cash, but we can make other arrangements. Thanks,  Logan”  With a swift stroke, I sent the email to tremoloterror88 and while I eagerly awaited a response, I wrote a few riffs for the album that we were working on. Within minutes, I received a response from the seller, and we agreed to meet up in the following hour to complete our eleven-hundred dollar exchange.  I hopped into my hollowed out cargo van, painted jet black with rimless wheels and a skull with crossbones spray-painted on the side panels. A couple of fuzzy red dice were hanging from the rear view mirror, which was broken and dangly, and the booze stains which had been simmering in the summer heat had a sour smell. Crusty it was, but it was a tour van, a veteran of a very chaotic Rust Belt tour. We visited seven cities and played sixteen shows, while severing any semblance of self-respect; bar girls are boisterous, yet a bandmate must do what must be done.  Driving across Pilgrim Boulevard, I realized that the GPS on my Samsung phone was taking me to a place I had never been. Our home base wasn’t exactly small, but it wasn’t exactly large either, and living here for the entire duration of my life had led me to believe that I had driven every ruined road in the greater metropolitan area.  The GPS had directed me towards a strange neighborhood; a homeowners association ran the unincorporated town, and they kept a very strict appearance code. Lawns were to be no more than two inches in height, houses were to be pastel colors only, and there was no tolerance for yard junk. Cleanliness was the standard in the neighborhood of Green Hills, and the homeowners association enforced their rules with an iron fist.  As a natural societal outcast and general asshole, I was no stranger to feeling like a stranger. A dangerous misfit, I had refused the working world and instead chose to chase my own dream, but that day the reality of my burned out fantasy struck me like an open G chord. I saw his neighbors, and they stared with unease, their bush trimmers in hand and riding lawnmowers moving. I wanted to finish my purchase and get out of dodge before a boomer with a bush trimmer toppled me. Surely they were worried about their property values being lowered by my matte-black van touching the road adjacent to their driveways.  I pulled up to the destination, a light pink cottage with a yellow door and white shingles, the freshly-mowed lawn glistening in the fiery autumn sun. 1996 Dora Drive was the address, and as I emerged from my emission-machine, I was greeted by a man not much older than me. He wore a pink polo shirt with straight khaki chinos, perfectly contoured to his long legs, and a pair of penny loafers, an unusual choice in 2024.  “Nice to meet you,” proclaimed the man, who I assumed to be tremoloterror88. “I’m Mark from CurbAlert.” He stuck his hand out for a handshake before wincing as I grabbed his hand, his assumption being that I was dirty because of my appearance; my long hair, beard, and band tees created a crusty caricature, and his cordial demeanor demonstrated his societal value. He was a corporate man, it seemed.  “Yeah, good to meet you too,” I replied, suspicious of what I was getting myself into. It’s true that his kind was not my kind, and despite the best attempts by the world to condition me to love, I stuck to what I knew. I didn’t know anything about the corporate world, nor did I ever want to. All I needed was booze and bud to make me happy in the evenings, but come morning time I was a grouchy old geezer.  “Come on in,” said Mark. “But don’t be alarmed by my decorations.”  As a horror fanatic, I had seen it all before, so I told him that I wouldn’t be bothered. I just wanted to get that guitar and go become a superstar. He motioned for me to come inside, and opened the door in front of me, where a foul odor hit me like a dump truck running into a nitroglycerin plant, the aroma of death and decay wafting through the air. Normal on the outside, I immediately noticed that this was not a normal house on the inside. No, this was something far more fatal. As the door locked behind me, I noticed a tapestry of human flesh on the wall, which was adorned with bones of animals and people alike. Skulls topped the lampshades, creating a damning darkness and a feeling of dread filled the room. I continued looking around, trying to examine all of the unique artifacts I was seeing for the first time. The smells of rotting flesh were nauseating, and as I looked around I started to feel uneasy. Did I really need this guitar? At what cost was this terrifying transaction? “I dunno man, I think I should be going,” I proclaimed while holding back vials of vomit. The silence pierced my ears like a needle gun, and I turned around. Mark was gone. I was alone in this dwelling of death and demise, my unwise choices leading to a lair in which I could’ve been trapped forever.  With confusion and disgust sweeping over me, the whirlwind of emotions grew more sinister as they rapidly switched back and forth in this macabre miniature mansion. I nearly vomited again at the stench of sliced skin hanging from the ceiling and walls, and in a feeble attempt to escape back to the world which I had hated for so long, I used every muscle in my body to pull at the door to no avail. It was locked from the outside, and even the strongest bodybuilder in the universe would look like a soft schoolgirl trying to escape the clutches of Mark’s domain.  A static emerged from the walls, a faint whisper of feedback from a system of speakers. It was Mark.  “I guess I should’ve told you before you got here, but I’m a bad host,” said Mark, his devious grin evident in the tone of his sarcastic voice. He let out a brief laughter before the transmission terminated and the static resumed. I glanced around the room in utter disgust, and the broadcast came back again.  “I forgot to tell you… you can leave, but… you’ll have to find me first. Have fun.” In some sort of terribly twisted maze, I found myself in a real life escape room with a menacing eye watching over me like that 1980s pop song. Cameras hidden in craniums must have been watching me, as I could feel Mark’s presence everywhere inside the shadowy shack. I had no other option. Powerless and even more helpless, I had to play along with his evil experiment, and so I creeped through the kitchen doorway, spreading seven strings hanging with stacks of teeth so yellow and rotten. Cavities decorated the dental disasters, and their genuine germiness reminded me of my own golden woes.  I was in the kitchen, its checkered, bloodstained floor and aggressive aromatics attacking my nasal cavities. Crude paintings on caucasian canvases of stretched skin lined the urine-yellow walls, a dehydrated dye resembling the Backrooms. Cryptids covered these canvases: the Moth Man, Slender Man, and the Flatwoods Monster mirrored my now emotionless expression. Hiding my horrified feelings, I adopted a straight face as a defense mechanism, wondering when I was going to find Mark and embark on an escape and maintain my silence. In a crescendo of curiosity, I crept to the fridge and cracked it open, revealing a row of thick, dark steaks wrapped in plastic and a sealed jar of a human brain with pickled pink ridges. The cabinets contained cups made from hollowed out femurs and bowls made from the brain’s defense structure: the skull. The sink was filled with blood and brain fragments, and cockroaches crawled on the caramel-colored countertops. The chairs were made from a skeleton each, and a torn-up tablecloth sat on the table.  Continuing through the macabre maze, I made my way to the master bedroom, where a bed frame made of bones and a comforter of human skin was conjured from a life of sin. Friday the 13th posters covered the blacked out walls, and a wallside bookshelf held a slew of college-level anatomy textbooks and schizophrenia-level religious texts. I glanced at the words on the spines, and I didn’t recognize the names etched on their bound backs. Xythar, the demon of the tenth dimension, was the one that stood out to me, and I pulled it from the shelf in an attempt to self-educate, but it was attached to the shelf. The shelf spun around, and a hidden hallway emerged from the black walls. I tiptoed to the opening, and the sloped corridor descended into darkness. With chrome panels on each side, broken up by tanks of people and preservatives. The youthful beauty of fully nude girls next door on full display reminded me of an alien’s aquarium, a zoo of gorgeous zombies. I meandered my way to the doorway at the end of the corridor, and I knocked.  “Come in,” whispered Mark into a microphone, his grin still evident.  I walked in the door, and Mark sat on a throne of unnaturally large human bones. “You made it through,” declared Mark. “I didn’t think you’d make it, but you did. You’re a different breed, and I believe you can keep a secret, but I don’t trust you. I need you to do me a favor.” I looked at him with my blank face, and asked “What do you want?” Mark, lifting his finger and smiling, inquired “What do you think of my office chair? It’s made from some bones I found while excavating some mounds out on Route 10. You don’t actually think those things are sacred, do you, Logan? Anyway, I need you to make a blood pact with me. I will cut an X into my finger, and you will cut an O, and we will shake hands in the name of Xythar. I’m clean.” What the hell? I thought. I had already witnessed said horrors beyond human comprehension, and I had to do anything I could to make it out of this portal to Hell. I agreed.  He grabbed a book from his desk and waltzed over to a couchside coffee table, inviting me to have a seat. I reluctantly walked to the table and sat down.  “Xythar, Devourer of Worlds,” shouted Mark. “I call upon your dark power. Tonight, a sacred pact is made in blood, sealing Logan's silence. He knows Mark's secret, a truth that must remain hidden. Should Logan betray this trust and reveal Mark's darkness, I beseech you, unleash your wrath upon him. May his fate be a testament to your unwavering strength, a reminder that your will shall not be defied.” Mark grabbed a switchblade from his floral-printed shirt pocket and looked me directly in the eye, smiling wide and laughing. He carved an X into his palm, and the gash erupted with blood. He didn’t flinch, and seemed to enjoy the pain. Must’ve been a masochist. “It’s your turn, Logan,” uttered Mark in between heavy breaths.  I grabbed the knife and dug into my calloused palm, etching an oval into my rough flesh. Blood erupted from my hand too, and we shook hands, his firm and mine trembling. “I expect your silence,” demanded Mark. “And so does Xythar.”  Xythar, a deity I had never heard of, would never dictate my decisions, but I did what any rational person would do, and I agreed to the pact. Mark directed me to a doorway and opened it, revealing my gnarly guitar, and I climbed up a cobweb-covered ladder to exit through a cellar door in the back of the home’s foundation. I sprinted to my safe place, my trusty van, and scrambled out of the sinister neighborhood, calling the cops and screaming to them about what I had just seen.  I made it back home where I am writing this letter, and I have been narrowly avoiding death since the second I left the property. It started with a snake bite in the passenger seat of my van, and culminated in a near-collision on Pilgrim Boulevard while I was heading back to my studio apartment in the middle of the city.  I feel the walls caving in. I don’t have much time, as Xythar is coming. This isn’t a pity party, it’s a swan song; an understanding of the coming reality, and a desire to immortalize my story before I become a simple statistic. I feel a crisp breeze and a tapping on the window. An invisible force, the inter-dimensional deity Xythar will surely shackle me and take me to his hellish dimension, forever forgotten in a fiery world.

2024-06-22 03:30:22

A Brief History of the Adventuring Company TFC (Task Force Chimera)

# Part 2, Chapter 12a. **That Night...** **Arthur** *Again your dreams are troubled.* Arthur stands in a court.  Ladies in fine outfits breeze past him, chatting with each other and with finely dressed young men.  All the men are handsome, with finely chiseled features atop muscular, toned bodies.  Their clothing accentuates their figures, with plunging necklines displaying six-pack abs, tanned to the golden tone of a well cooked bird.  Muscles bulge in the right places, and trim waists accentuate a triangular figure.  Arthur watches as they pass by him.  He feels ungainly and out of place, in unfashionable clothing that is baggy in the wrong places.  He tries to get the attention of a lady, but she simply stares through him as she passes by. Music starts, and everyone begins an intricately choreographed dance that leave Arthur stuck in the middle.  He’s pummeled by stray arms and kicked by errant legs as the dancers sway, and weave, and glide around him.  Stumbling toward what he thinks is the wall, he is assailed by twirling women with razor sharp edges on their dresses.  Arthur looks down and sees he’s in dark brown shabby breeches that were last fashionable in the previous century.  His legs are sliced open and blood pours down his legs and drips onto the floor.  He’s embarrassed that he’s messing up the floor and feels an urge to get out of the way.  Sharp fingernails scratch his face and neck, leaving gouges that drip onto a cream-colored shirt, four sizes too large for him.  He makes his way to what he thinks is the “outside” of the dancers’ pattern, when he is confronted by a dark-haired woman.  She is wearing a ruffled gown in a sunshine yellow with white and blue bows sewn around each layer.  She has a wand in her left hand and a dance card in her right.  “Oh Arthur!  There you are!  I’ve been looking for you,” she says in an unsettling voice.  He knows that his name is in every space on her dance card.  He stammers a few syllables, when she opens her mouth in a wide, toothy grin.  Her teeth are as sharp as a wild animal, and her mouth grows and grows until it is larger than her entire face, her entire head.  As it grows, she keeps saying, “Arthur, don’t you want to dance?  Come and dance with me Arthur!” Whirling around, he runs for the door that he can now see, so very far away.  Every one of the dancers is between him and the door, twirling around, coming together with their hands above their heads, then pulling apart to twirl around again.  He pushes through the couples, who largely ignore him.  The men have daggers that they slice him as he passes and the women have their razor dresses that draw blood.  He pushes through, shoving people out of his way as he runs faster toward the door.  He finally shoves the last couple of dancers apart and sees a set of carpet covered steps leading up to the door.  Suddenly the dark haired woman steps in front of him.  “Arthur, you can’t go!  You must dance with me!”  The dance card in her hand is now a spell book, and the wand in her hand is now a serpent, coiling around her arm.  As he finds himself rooted to the spot, the snake’s mouth opens up to swallow him whole.   **Dillium** *Again, your trance is troubled.* Dillium strides purposefully down the central aisle of a large temple.  Light streams in through open windows creating beams of light that show random bits of dust floating in the air.  She knows that this is a temple to her god, but the walls and features recede from her sight when she tries to focus on them.  People all around her go about mundane business.  One washes dishes, while another spins yarn.  A baby is breastfed while another child clings to his mother’s apron strings.  A cobbler attaches the sole of a shoe.  A seamstress sews an elaborate dress.  Nowhere does she see the dean, or prior, or whomever runs this temple.  A woman beats the dust from a carpet.  A household servant is berated by his master for some minor transgression.  A barrel-maker with the head of a wasp shapes a wooden slat, his very human hands gripping the draw-knife loosely.  A matron of a tavern or bar with the head of a guinea pig seats a young couple who are squirrels in human clothing, their bushy tails emerging from places that human clothing has no place for bushy tails to emerge from.  As she looks around, Dillium notes the people become more and more bizarre, and are doing things that should not be done in temple dedicated to Ilmater.  An ox-headed farmer plows a furrow in the stone floor, his plow pulled by a matched pair of frogs with dog legs.  A rabbit in hide some sort of lacquered armor wields a long, curved sword against a giant bat with a straight sword.  Suddenly Dillium sees the altar ahead, manned by a giant spider, who is wrapping up a human-sized creature in webbing.  “I’ll do you next,” the spider says to Dillium. She turns to run, but Zander and Arthur are right behind her.  She smashes into Zander, but as she looks up (and up… they are tall guys), Arthur’s helmet is empty.  Zander’s helmet contains the head of a cat, whiskers poking out from the opening of the visor.  In confusion, she looks around and sees Novos and Felicity standing to either side.  Before she can ask what is going on, Novos opens his mouth, and beetles spill out onto the floor, skittling their way over to her.  Panicked, she looks at Felicity, whose eyes have been replaced with the many-faceted eyes of a housefly.  She reaches out to Felicity, but it’s the leg of a bug that reaches out.  Dillium screams as it touches her.     **Felicity** *Again your dreams are troubled.* Felicity stands on a platform near the entrance to the chamber.  Before her, her friends and relatives battle an ancient horror—the avatar of Tiamat \[1\].  Zander is in red dragonscale armor, meticulously crafted of the hide of Crementor the Orphan-maker, a ridiculously long firebrand sword casting fireballs at the monster.  Arthur’s armor shines blindingly golden, emblazoned with the holy symbols of his god and with his county.  His sword glows with the light of the sun, and his every hit thunders through the cavern.  Novos is a dark streak, his dagger and short sword wreaking havoc on the last of the avatar’s court as he plunges it into one aberration after another.  Pocky --- Sir Mikel now, leads a charge of light cavalry into the flank while Baron Atticus charges with a company of lightly armored *landsknecht* into the other flank.  Bishop Dillium’s priests are scattered around keeping the warriors on their feet while Sir Dalton’s archers harry the many heads of the beast.  “My Lady, the shield is prepared,” the senior mage, Divinister Major Grelex says.  The force shield will keep the avatar off Felicity while she first attracts her attention and then blasts her with the carefully prepared spells she has waiting.  World-changing spells, Felicity is one of a very few who know of them, and even fewer that can cast them.  This will be the last attempt to purge Tiamat’s avatar.  They need a pool of its blood for the next part of the quest, and failure means that the deities have to get involved, or the Realms will be forfeit.  All this runs through her mind instead of the calm breathing techniques the queen taught her.  Still, it is time. Felicity steps up behind the shield.  She starts by bind the mouth of the green head before it can breathe choking gas on Atticus’ formation.  “KEKIZAL!”  she commands, pointing her favorite wand at the head.  She sneezes as butterflies fly out of her nose.  Alarmed, she points at another head.  “ALKETIN BLELIND!”  A streak of light flies from her wand.  Streaking toward the blue head, it grows longer and wider before manifesting just in front of the blue head as a huge mirror.  The blue head gazes into the mirror for but a moment, then smashes it with his forehead, raining shards down upon Zander and his knights. “What is going on?” Felicity demands.  She chooses another wand and glances up in time to see the chromatic dragon stomp on three knights, flattening them.  The green head breathes a cloud of greenish gas that the lightly armored troops ignore for a moment.  They do have to breathe, though, and suddenly most of the formation is doubled over with wracking coughs. “BELIZAL RATAAK!” Felicity commands.  Fire streaks from the new wand, but it only makes it halfway to the avatar before it explodes harmlessly. “My Lady!  What troubles thee?  Thou MUST cast the Kwedizan Karabach spell soonest!”  the junior Thaumaturge says anxiously. “I am aware,” Felicity responds absently.   ‘Let’s try something easier and work up,’ she thinks.  “ZOOT!” she says, casting *Magic Missile*, one of the simplest spells in her arsenal.  Fifteen darts fly from her hand, but instead of hitting the avatar, each one sputters out and hits a different part of the cavern floor, sending stone shards in all directions.  One of the darts manages to directly impact a horse in Sir Mikel’s  formation, and suddenly the horse is a giant porcupine.  This comes as quite a shock to the rider, who now has quite a large number of quills sticking into parts that don’t normally have quills, and the next three horses, that each run into the porcupine and its quills.  “BLOOP!”  She commands, expecting a lightning bolt to fly from her wand.  Instead, green turtle sails out and falls into the party of paladins at the avatar’s feet.  Already half of them are gone. “Flapat Briligazar!”  A huge fireball goes off at her feet, incinerating her and most of the mages standing around her.  Fortunately the shield keeps much from leaking out toward the triumphant avatar.   \[1\] [https://forgottenrealms.fandom.com/wiki/Tiamat](https://forgottenrealms.fandom.com/wiki/Tiamat)   **Novos** *Again, your dreams are troubled.* “Alms!  Mister, can you…”  A wracking cough doubles Novos over.  Dressed in his finest, Novos fondly remembered that this was one of his favorite suits back when he could walk on his own.  Now it is mostly rags.  His long stringy hair gets in his face and he puts the stump of his arm up to “cover” his cough.  A passer-by aims a kick at him, and Novos falls over, still coughing.  The cold of the dirt street is somewhat comforting, but it makes the cough worse.  As he feels the fit coming to an end, he sits up in time to feel the first drops of a coming rainstorm.  As cold as it is, it might even turn to sleet by the afternoon, making his life that much more miserable.  Novos half slides, half-drags himself over to a doorway.  His useless legs follow, but remain in the way as people try to walk around him.  “Alms?” he asks plaintively, hoping someone will take pity.  A pair of heavy boots stops in front of him.  He knows these boots, and the trousers that come above.  “Good afternoon, constable,” he says looking up into the face of one of the town’s guardsmen.  Sometimes they will do him a good deed and point out which tavern might allow him to turn up at the back door for scraps. “Old man, I believe I have told you more than once.  We don’t want your kind here.  Get out of here before someone has to put their hands on you to throw you out.”  Constable ‘Knobby’ Knobsworth is not the kind one, but at least he doesn’t usually kick Novos. “I wonder if you might see your way to—” Novos begins.  In the back of his mind he realizes this is the first person to acknowledge him since that girl pointed at him and laughed yesterday. “No.  Git.”  He nudges Novos’ useless legs out of his way as he keeps on walking.  Novos doesn’t feel them, but it does spin him around so that he’d looking at the door.  It’s painted black, though the paint is old and peeling.  He looks up to see a discrete door knocker.  With a start he realizes that this door leads to a safehouse for the organization he used to lead, years ago.  Reaching up with his one good hand, he barely is able to touch the doorknob.  By instinct more than memory, he knocks on the door in a particular pattern.  He can vaguely hear the echoes from the inside.  If the building is more or less empty, he might be able to let himself in and at least get out of the cold and the freezing slush that is coming.  Wishing he had his tools, he reaches up again, wishing the door is unlocked.  He has nothing to check for traps with, so he just hopes that the building is empty.  Suddenly the door springs open.  A man stands in the open doorway.  Looking down, he sees Novos.  A sneer crosses his face.  “Oh.  It’s you.  How dare you--?” “Please.  It’s cold and I’ve nowhere to go.” “And you can’t come here.”  The door slams shut, and Novos is barely able to pull his hand back in time to avoid it being caught. With a heavy sigh, Novos turns around to try to find some other place to shelter.  Behind him, he hears the door open again.  Turning with relief, he feels the cold steel of a sword pierce his back and sees it come out his chest.  The sword twists around, then is yanked back.  Novos feels the boot on the back of his neck as he is shoved forward out into the muddy street.  No word is spoken as the door slams shut again.  In mere minutes, Novos’ eyes shut for the last time.     **Zander** *Again, your dreams are troubled.* Zander is shoved out of the cart.  Stumbling, he drops to one knee on the hard cobblestones.  “Come on, you.  Get up!” a gruff voice orders him.  Without waiting for him to comply, a strong hand grabs Zander’s shoulder and heaves him up.  Zander’s hands are tied behind his back.  He’s long since lost feeling in his hands, the bindings are so tight.  Again, he flexes futilely, but he just can’t get leverage to break free.  Once on his feet, he’s roughly shoved toward the steps.  The mood of the crowd is tense.  Zander can hear vendors in the throng selling sausages.  The spoiled vegetables are free.  A green-ish turnip smacks into the side of Zander’s face, but fortunately it’s so badly rotted that it simply leaves a nasty smear.  Laughter breaks out and out of his view, someone pats the youngster on the back for his excellent aim.  Catcalls and vulgar shouts are directed at Zander as he climbs the narrow steps to the top.  “Hey there good fellow.  Give me a hand going up, for I’m sure I’ll find my way back down on my own,” Zander quips.  On the platform, a man in a black hood and robe awaits. “Zander Roaringhorn,” a crier reads to the crowd from a scroll he has memorized.  “You have been tried and found to be a traitor to the people.  You now pay for those crimes.”  To the headsman, he says simply, “Carry out the sentence.” “Wait, don’t I get a last word, or consolation by a priest?”  Zander asks. “That is your last word,” is the reply.  The headsman spins Zander around so he is facing the people.  Grabbing the rough wool tunic Zander is wearing, he rips it off his back, exposing his neck and shoulders.  He pushes Zander down onto a rough plank, his chest half off the end.  One end of a rope is nailed onto the side of the plank, and the headsman lays the rope across Zander’s shoulders.  He cinches the rope tightly under a nail on the other side. “I say, that’s not really necessary, is it?” he asks the headsman.  The man simply grunts and cinches it tighter.  He picks up a wicked looking axe.  “As a nobleman, I deserve a sword rather than an axe.  Really, do I have to tell you everything around here?”  The headsman looks down at Zander.  Rather than answer, he steps back and lines up the ax with the back of Zander’s neck.  The crowd mostly quiets down as the violence becomes imminent. “Guess everyone can see you now, can’t they?” someone shouts from the gathered people.  The crowd twitters. “Get on with it!  I have a pie in the oven!” shouts an old woman.  The crowd rewards the witticism with another twitter. Though he can’t see it, the headsman makes a show of practicing his swing a couple of times before he brings the heavy axe down on Zander’s neck.  His first blow hits high, striking low on the back of his head.  It’s enough to kill Zander, but not enough to sever his head.  A second blow is slightly low and not hard enough.  The crowd boos at the lack of skill.  Finally, a third attempt severs Zander’s head from his shoulders, and drops it neatly into a waiting basket.  Putting his axe down, the headsman reaches in and grabs the hair at the top of Zander’s head.  Holding it up high, he shows the head to the cheering crowd.  Turning, he grasps the head with both hands and thrusts it down on a stake that will later that day be placed over the south gate of the town. Loosening the rope, the headsman plants his boot on Zander’s shoulder and shoves him off the platform into the crowd below who scrambles to cut off scraps of clothing and small body parts as souvenirs.   **Pocky** Pocky wakes with a start and sits up suddenly.  Dillium, reading a book in the dim light of the pavilionsol, looks up.  Pocky looks like he is trying very hard not to cry.  Seeing Dillium is awake, he gets up and walks over.  Quietly, so as not to wake up everyone else, he says, “Grandma Dillium, I had a bad dream.” “Yes, I think everyone has been having them.  But, I’m not a grandmother, Pocky.” “I heard you telling Mr. Rorimhorn that you are older than everyone, even older than Arthur.  You must be old enough to be a grandma.” “Being a grandparent isn’t about age, it’s about having children, who then go on to have children themselves,” Dillium says, slipping into ‘teaching mode.’ “But you are really old.  Older than my Grandma, prolly.” With a slight smile, Dillium nods.  “Yes, Pocky, I’m probably older than your grandmother.”  Why don’t you try to go back to sleep.  It’s still many hours to daylight.” “I'm scared.  Promise you won't tell Mr. Rorimhorn?  He won't want me to be his squire if I get scared."   "I won't tell him." “Can I sit here with you?”  the boy asks. “Sure.  You can sit here with me,” Dillium replies. Fifteen minutes later, Pocky is leaning up against Dillium’s shoulder, snoring softly.

2024-06-22 03:30:05

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