“Been a long time, old friend,” Dival said to the empty air around him as he stepped out of the tree line following the still trodden path towards his destination and stopping to take in his surroundings. The charcoal colored walls were always overgrown, even tended they were overgrown. It was just how things were when life went dark, the buildings abandoned and the entire area goes into nothing short of a hibernation. Ice and Sin still dominated the cryptic feel of the area; two names that permeated storybook tales that some swear were just to scare children back to their beds at night. All stories lead back to a string of truth that most care not to believe. Dival looked to the black still waters of a deep lake to the right of the path towards the mansion. The wet blackness seemed to harbor a dark sense of foreboding merely staring into the water even from this distance.
In front of Dival rose a building, unlike any other structure he could compare. Even covered in shrub and ivy he could see the two tall spires facing towards him, rising story after story into the foggy mist above with opposing and dark stone that made up the entirety of the structure. Ivy and growth weaved in and out of nearly every window, balcony and doorway. There was no sound; muted even. The wind didn’t touch his cheeks, nor did the still water of the lake stir or ripple. There was only the crunch of ice from his steps, but even those seemed to cut off too short. He caught himself having to force away implanted thoughts and not to start to believe the rumors he’d heard and he hadn’t even stepped inside the clearing yet. Projecting on me, those bastards, Dival thought as he forced the feelings away.
His breath steamed around him in the frigid morning air. Ice crystallized mud and puddles crunched beneath his feet. The snow stopped at the tree line oddly enough and all throughout the perimeter of the grounds that could only be called dark and obtrusive to the land around it; some had even called evil back in the city of Devuh. Probably all just misunderstandings in all likelihood, he thought. Remembering all the talks of, “The devil lives there,” or, “Death even the bloodsuckers don’t go near.” Words to scare and the chatter of fear mongering that was most likely all huff and had no bite to it. Well, I’ll find out soon enough, he mused as another iced over puddle crunched beneath his feet.
Approaching the front of the building he noticed what resembled a statue on the edge of the deck that surrounded the exterior of the front of the house. Closest to the abode, he saw, what looked to be a cemetery that extended far into the backside of the house and to the dark lake’s edge. The statue looked humanoid of sorts but seemed to have a helmet some of the divers from the city of Amorine would wear. The resemblance stopped there as this helmet had long spikes covering where hair should have been. He could not see a face as the head drooped towards the wood of the decking of which it stood. All for the better, Dival thought, yet still found himself curious. He found his eyes drawn towards the two wide double door entrance of the manor. Vines were crawling their way out from the inside to scale up the thick wooden doors, but he could still see the engravings and wood carving of what Dival could make out to be Dragons. Once more another attributable reference to the city of Amorine. The citizens there are renown for their dislike of, “Those damned lizards,” as was the common consensus. There were dozens of factories there that were famous for their Stells, what the citizens referred to the Steam Hells as, each carrying the same namesake due to the boiling steam that permeates the lower quarters of the factories.
There were two of these lizards, one on each door, and they came to meet in the middle of the doorway in more spots than one. Even through the overgrowth, it looked to be a battle between the two. One attacking the other from above with long arms and legs with enormous wings, and the other reaching up from the ground with its snake-like body, small arms but huge head and jaws. The wood carving was truly a work of art; Dival would have to see if he could recreate the scene when he returned to his abode. It wasn’t the first time Dival had been in this area, but he had never taken a chance to appreciate the finer details. Unlike the last occasion when he had lost so much blood that he wasn’t coherent or aware of his surroundings, this time he was of sound mind and body. He found himself wondering where the occupants had gone. He supposed it could be anything as it had been nearly 15 years since his last visit.
Clearing away some of the growth Dival tried the door to no avail, and he shook his head. Would have been too easy, I suppose, Dival thought. As he turned a breath of icy air brushed his cheek which made him flinch back and look the way he came. At first, there was nothing and only the continued stillness of the area around him. Then a blade of long grass caught his eye as it moved, brushed as if by a soft breeze. His brow furrowed, eyes followed the breeze through the overgrown grass. It weaved back towards the broken headstones near the dark, unmoving waters of the lake before circling a particular headstone ‘it’ seemed to have a certain affinity. What… was all Dival had time to think before the wind hit like a clap of thunder.
Dival reeled away to put his back to the thick wooden doors. He could see the wind filled with mist and what looked like shapes, but he couldn’t feel anything. At first, it was only the sound of the wind that seemed to circle the manor and the entire grounds itself, but soon the wind turned to howl like wind does with underlying intermittent banshee screams to accentuate the roar of the misty fog now circling just beyond the deck that Dival now found himself trapped. That was when he saw her, at first just a shrouded shape formed into a woman with the obvious signs of being with child. She didn’t seem to notice him as she walked away from the stairway of the entranceway and towards the headstone he last saw the circling breath of the wind that kissed his cheek. The wind screamed again, and she was gone but reappeared just as fast crouching on the ground near the shore of the lake. Dival absently noticed the dark waters still did not seem disturbed in all the commotion before his attentions came back to the woman as she began screaming. Is she in labor? Dival thought as he looked towards her unable to look away, unsure if he was in shock, scared, or overcome with a fear he could not yet feel. She screamed with endless agony before once again fading away with the mist as the wind gusted with what once again felt as it should have toppled the building; and then it was gone, as silent as it was before. The only proof there was any wind at all was the tall blades of grass still slowly waving side to side before those too came to rest.
Dival watched each piece of grass come to a halt, in turn, unsure and too stunned to move, and as the last overgrown grass came to rest was when a cold metal hand came to rest softly on the fabric of his shoulder. Dival looked down slowly over his left shoulder at the metal shaped like fingers and what seemed like a bone between slowly spinning gears where knuckles should have been. He followed the same style arm up to the spikes that covered the helmet that he now realized was just the head of the creature that now stared at him through two hollowed out holes where eyes should have been and strangely humanoid jaw with the lips of a woman. Dival couldn’t help but silently stare, already emotionally drained as he noticed what was in its other hand. Is that a trumpet? He studied it carefully the hand on his shoulder resembling that of any normal bipedal, but her, or it’s, other hand had nearly ten fingers that held what looked to be a trumpet with just as many keys. His eyes came back up to its face which had soft alabaster skin from the neck to just below the cast iron eye sockets that held an uncanny emptiness. A feminine voice spoke.
“Welcome home, Dival.” He blinked as it released his shoulder and reached behind him to the large wooden doors. She, or it, released the hidden latch with a soft click and the doors swung slowly inward to a profoundly dark entry hall that he could not see further than a few feet. Home? Dival thought for a moment before being drawn forward with a desperate curiosity. He slowly entered into the darkness through the doorway leaving behind what he could only describe as an automaton of sorts. Perhaps from the city of Amorine? They were always building new contraptions and machines that some feared as being magic or evil. That was nonsense obviously, Amorine was just a haven for inventors, artists, and creators alike. Well, perhaps there were a few things indistinguishable from magic, he thought. Remembering a contraption that seemed purely of magic, Dival pulled out a small orb from one of his many cloak pockets. He twisted each hemisphere opposite of one another, and with a little ‘click’ a soft glow permeated the air around the device and Dival as he stepped further into the cavernous entrance hall.
He could not make out the ceiling as it remained cloaked in shadow, nor any walls beside the door behind him that he just realized had now closed. Dival grunted to himself, Well, here we are, he thought, let’s see what this place is all about. He followed the wall to his left with light in hand before he came across two dust-covered overstuffed chairs facing the opposite wall which held a fireplace. Perfect, he thought as he made his way over Dival noticed there was still some charred wood inside the hearth itself and a small pile of timber so dry next to it that it nearly crumbled when he grabbed it. Should light quick enough if it holds together, he thought. With flint and knife he had a fire going in no time, he warmed himself for a moment before building the flames up to get a better view of his surroundings.
Further down the same wall as the now lit hearth, there was what looked to be a bar, the bottles covered in so much dust they all looked the same flavor and vintage. Towards the head of the massive entrance hall it fell into darkness again, but within the gloom, he could make out what looked to be a huge table at the head of the room on the far wall opposite of the entrance. The table was of a thick oak in the shape of the symbol representing infinity. Only one chair sat silently at the far end of the table. The single chair emanated a foreboding feeling to Dival, a silent challenge that pulled at him to come closer to it. As he made his way past the dust covered bar he couldn’t help but stop and consider sampling some of the spirits himself. Aged makes for a better taste, does it not? He mused.
Shadows appeared in his periphery vision, and his heart skipped a beat as he turned towards the table again. A figure sat unmoving with a cold stare towards him. The man seated at the head of the table turned his eyes to Dival. Long, thin, straight black hair cascaded over and behind the apparitions shoulders. Eyes the flavor of night pierced through Dival with a catatonic gaze. A deep chill ran through Dival. He couldn’t break away his eyes. A vice grip held his vision as he could do nothing besides return the look into hard dead eyes as black as charcoal. No, that is a deeper color of black than I’ve ever seen, they consume the light it seems. Without pupils, those eye sockets could be hollow, but they aren’t. Dival could see the shimmer of the firelight from the hearth in the orbs within the skull of the man. The figure suddenly took in a deep breath, chest and shoulders rising. Dival could hear the soft breath of a sigh escape the thin lips of the pale-skinned man. At the same moment, a resounding echo of a door slowly opened with creaking hinges. The sound echoed through the entrance hall near the opposite side to the left of the table that dominated this end of the room. A weight seemed to lift from the room that Dival hadn’t noticed before, but now that it wasn’t there he wondered how he was even standing before.
Is that a smile? Dival questioned curiously still unable to break the gaze of the figure before him. Sure enough, the pale lips of the man curved into a half-smile; a smirk even. Dival noticed he could then see through the pale skin of the man to the high backed chair behind him. Then just as quick as he appeared the figure was gone, leaving the seat empty and silent. Dival shook his head to clear his scattered thoughts and once again was drawn to the bar to steady his nerves. Maybe they had some brandy, he thought to himself. “This place…” he muttered out loud as he ran his fingertips over the wooden surface of the table. The wood of the table was cold to the touch and as reflective as glass. Dival tried to make out the area where he had heard the door creak open just a moment earlier. Too gloomy still, he thought. The wood was so aged that the fire was quickly dimming as it burned too fast. Torches, there have got to be some torches around here. There, and there. He found their placements against the wall and made his way to each one in the entrance hall and lit them all from the fire he started earlier, bathing the room in light. Much better, he thought as he smiled to himself. The last torch he lit was near a now open door near the table at the back of the room.
Must be the door, inside was a dark blood red glow to the chamber. Dival could make out what looked like a desk against the far wall opposite the door. He hesitated, Just what is going to pop out at me now, he was getting a little skittish after coming across so many surprises and having just arrived. Perhaps those damnable rumors had more seeds of truth then I’d thought, he admitted to himself as he cleared the distance to stand in the doorway of the dark red-hued room. He examined the ceiling of the chamber and found the source of the red light. There were inlays of a dark red glow in and throughout engravings on the entirety of the ceiling. The etchings ran what almost looked to be a spiral, starting much further out and turning in on itself sharply and stopping before it touched the center point. Most of this decoration was inside the raised square of the ceiling itself. There was indeed a desk on the opposite wall with a thick overstuffed chair sitting empty behind it. Another plain wooden chair sat empty in front of the desk off to one side. The desk was clear besides a single book lain open and a writing utensil sitting next to an inkwell. Haven’t seen an actual feather and ink set in a long while, he thought absently.
Dival turned away from the room and looked around at his surroundings. There was the entrance door he came through the fireplace and chairs, the bar, the table that dominated the room, the room behind him, a large open doorway that led to stairs leading upwards and a closed door just to his left. Above the entrance he came in, there were two giant windows on each side of the door higher up the wall. Now that there was more light in the entry hall he noticed the marble floor that had a cloud of blacks and whites mixing and interweaving all throughout the lobby. ‘Gorgeous…’ he thought, ‘get this thick blanket of dust and cobwebs off of everything, and we’d be in business.’ He turned back to the room he could only deem as, The Office, and entered. It was only then he saw the third chair immediately next to the entrance door. It was wooden with a high back, a basket weave seat, and it was empty as the rest of the room. Dival made his way to the other side of the desk and wiped off the thick layer of dust on the seat of the well-padded chair and sat. ‘Comfy,’ he thought as he leaned forward to look at the half opened book on the desk. There was half a page written in the book and a map. The script was neat but quick and flowing and was hard to make out at first.
Dival pushed his horse forward through the heavy snow. The trail seemed to continue this way with the trees still lining the path to each side. The snow covered what would have been padded down dirt below, at least he hoped it still did. The book’s map clearly marked this trail towards a city with no name and a location he’d never heard of, the only label in the book was, “The first extreme hoarfrost, a massive wind of rime icing; ‘Rimewind,'” jotted down next to the drawing. Not for the first time, Dival wondered just what in the hell is a, ‘Rimewind?’ He had never heard the term and had no point of reference for it. Dival pulled out of his reverie as the sounds he heard starting changing. There was the crunch of snow below of his horse’s constant stride, but there was something else now. Are those? Other footsteps? Dival looked around and couldn’t make anything out through the thick frozen tree line, but he was sure now that there was another set of steps crunching in the snow around him. He stopped his horse slowly, and a stillness fell over the forest around him. The quiet that only a deep snow on the bowed limbs of evergreens could bring. Only snow was falling in the distance off of a faraway branch that finally released its grip on the white powder covering it.
Dival didn’t know how long it was there, but a steamy breath flowed out of black nostrils that were attached to a head the size of his horses own head. Grey fur accompanied the face down to a wide splayed array of teeth. A low growl emanated from the giant wolf’s snarling mouth. Slowly, Dival reached down with his left arm, the side of him that the wolf couldn’t see, and grabbed the hilt of his thick blade rapier. He held the gaze of the wolf with a face unflinching as to not provoke until he was ready, but the wolf gave him no time before his massive front paws stepped forward. In one fluid motion, Dival rolled to his left off the saddle of his horse and landed on the soft snow below with his sword drawn. The wolf surged forward clearing the last half dozen feet with a leap towards the side of the horse. Without time to think about it, Dival ran his sword through the neck of his spotted brown steed and pulled down hard through the front of the neck of the animal. The horse began to fall just before the wolf hit the side of the now dying beast.
Following the motion of his slicing thrust, Dival threw himself under the neck of the horse towards the direction of the wolf as the two beasts collided, the wolf having bit jaws down too high on the horses back from where it intended. The collapsing horse threw the wolf off balance with the unexpected shifts of weights. Dival didn’t hesitate and launched forward running the thick blade through the temple of his attacker. Everything went silent besides the gurgling sound of his horse twitching in its last death throes. His rapier dropped slowly as the wolf’s muscles went limp falling to lay on the horse with its jaws buried deep within the upper portion of the backside of horseflesh and saddle. Dival sighed as he pulled his blade free and wiped it on the snow before returning it to his scabbard.
‘Now what?’ He thought as he examined the wolf. Its fur was thick but ragged and patchy. He thought he could see the ribs through the smoke colored fur and a taught belly. ‘Alone then?’ He hoped, figuring if it had been a pack he would be dead long before now. He shook his head and began the process of retrieving what he needed from the saddlebags. Too cold to be walking around out here, he chided himself for not preparing for a longer trek. It was nearly second sun’s set, and he had to get food and a fire going before the chill was too much to handle even for him. He was used to the cold, so it didn’t bother him as much as others, but even his body would fail him if there weren’t something to warm the flesh. He studied the horse knowing he had saved him from a more painful fate letting the wolf bite into him, and then he studied the giant wolf. ‘Well, no use making any of it go to waste,’ Dival thought.
It was only a few hours past before Dival was cleaning the last scraps of blood and fat off the hide of the smoky gray fur. He hung the coat, hair side away from the flames to dry out next to the fire. Overcooked horse meat was dinner for him tonight. All things considered, besides the walking part, he was feeling pretty fortunate at the moment. Being alone never bothered him, in fact, he relished it more than most other things in his life. There were only a select few he could be bothered sticking around with for more than a passing hour or two. He spent most his nights and days researching, exploring and finding clues to an elusive history. Devuh was a fine city, one that he spent all his younger years in, but eventually, the walls began to feel constrictive about the same time he was old enough to start asking questions. The more he found out, the more he wanted to know. Dival found himself thinking of his parents and their intense frustrations the further he dug into his story. “Quit all this digging!” They would scream at him, “The past is gone, leave it dead where it belongs.” That is all he would hear when he tried to find out about his grandparents. Non-answers only sparked his fire to know more, the more he learned, the more curious he became. There was a story here, and he had to find answers to where, and more importantly why, the concealment began in the first place.
His thoughts flashed back to the present as the crunch of snow signaled that footfalls were coming near, they sounded far away. No, not far away, he thought …small. A feminine face came slowly out of the shadows the opposite side of the fire. Dival already had his rapier’s hilt wrapped neatly in his palm, blade down behind him ready to lash out. Her eyes held a wild look that was only accentuated by the fire, but her demeanor and features were calm and non-threatening. He furrowed his brow to her as she continued forward. Her skin was pink, and she was young from the looks of her. She wore a plain cotton top and leather breeches with boots to match. “That is plenty close,” Dival warned her. She nodded to him and sat continuing to look at him through the flames and smoke of the fire.
“Clara. She became consumed within herself,” the new girl murmured.
Dival cocked his head to the side, “Clara…?”
The strange young woman nodded to the hide now drying beside the fire. “Her, she was consumed by not just hunger, but her desires.”
He found himself gripping the hilt of his sword a bit tighter, “She was yours?”
She chuckled a bit, which threw Dival off with the friendly nature of the sound, “Oh no, there is no ownership here, we are our own in this world and only belong to ourselves; as should be for everyone. Very free we are,” the stranger smiled to him.
“Who are you?” Dival asked.
“You may call me, Kit.” Kit nodded sharply to him to punctuate.
“Okay, Kit, what are you doing out here by yourself so far north away from the city?” Dival wondered as he studied her features.
“Oh, we aren’t alone. What do I call you, sir?”
“Dival. I am from the city of Devuh. Not alone then, do we eat or bleed tonight?” He asked raising a brow to her.
“Both? That depends on you,” Kit said without pretense. “You killed one that was with us, yet Clara was going to be a problem for us all soon enough.”
Dival shrugged, “Sometimes our hands are forced, are they not?”
Kit nodded, “Exactly, which is why it is horseflesh you eat and not us you.” She smiled warmly at him. “Speaking of, may I? I’m starving.”
Dival furrowed his brow to her before nodding his head to the side of the fire. “Sure? I won’t be able to finish, and I can’t haul it all so help yourself.”
Kit smiled her thanks before slowly standing and making her way to the cooked meat. She winced biting into the horseflesh, “Not a chef in your previous life, Dival, I have to say.”
He couldn’t help but chuckle in disbelief. Who the hell is this woman? “Cooking’s not my strong suit.”
“I see that,” she said playfully before returning to where she was sitting. Slowly chewing on the food and holding the piece of meat up to Dival, “Thank you.”
“So, is this the part where you kill me and take the rest with one of your friends behind me?” Dival asked curiously.
She looked jokingly defensive, “Oh no, we would have waited until you were sleeping. Easier that way.” Kit smiled dangerously towards him.
Those eyes, Dival thought, there was a wild look to her indeed. How long had she been out here, or they out here rather? He tightened his grip on his rapier, but she seemed not to pay the action any mind. As it always did, his curiousness drove his questions. “’Rimewind,’ have you ever heard of that?”
Kit’s eyes looked to the flames, and he noticed her features become distant as she responded. “If you’re looking for that, trust me when I say there is nothing worth seeing touched by those kinds of winds.” She looked back up to him all sense of pleasantry escaping her features.
“I have no choice, Kit. I’m following a trail and hope to find answers. I found a clue, and I need to see where it leads.” He responded plainly.
The young woman, Kit, stood suddenly frowning to him, her wild eyes looking right through him, “Choice is the only thing we always have. This path only leads to death, return to Devuh or some other place far from here. Thank you for the meal and thank you for freeing Clara, she was in more pain than she could cope with.” Kit turned and quickly disappeared into the darkness before he had the chance to respond. Dival took another bite of the burnt meat and once again returned his gaze to the fire. ‘Well, death is who I will ask my questions to then,’ he thought.