A cadaver lay in an alleyway, unmoving and pale, deep within the confines of a city, the streets and buildings reeking with the heavy stench of blood and smoke. The lips were slightly parted, pale and cracked from the cold; eyes half closed, misty, gazing down towards the pavement, chest deflated and still. Halos of its own ruby red liquid circled the head, giving the skin an ethereal, wraithlike glow in its stark contrast. Trickling down and pooling around the abdomen, it accentuated three bullet holes, burnt and hallow, harsh against uncovered flesh. The body laid askew, one leg broken, shards biting through torn skin, the head twisted ruthlessly towards the pavement. Arms were flung out sideways, hands clenched tightly around invisible nothings.
The footsteps approached soundlessly, their pace slowing to acknowledge the snow as it began to fall, a gossamer film to cover the shattered body. Lifeless green eyes stared straight at them as they came, the steps hardy seeming to touch the ground. The intruder stared down blankly, taking the all too familiar scene into her mind. It was like a painting, beautiful and sad, running its invisible fingers around her and through her. This wasn’t right, she thought, the sentence echoing darkly in her mind. Without warning, her otherwise blank face took on unfamiliar emotion. Her lips pursed in nervousness, knowing and not knowing her next actions. Her body felt weak and alien as she stared at the girl-child before her, scene unwillingly replaying behind her eyes.
She had watched silently and had witnessed everything, as the girl’s crashing movements contrasted against the fluid shadows of what should have been. She ran with a sense of urgency in herself, the pain-filled fear that twisted her mind away from awareness. The shots behind her were deliberate, dancing, as hidden hands fired from their hidden guns round after round, aimed no where and everywhere after her. The sporadic motions rippled invisible bodies, turning the darkness into a sea of movement and terrible noise. Her breathing was labored, body drenched in sweat and fear. The first bit through her stomach as she ran, her back twisting with the impact, drenching the ground in thick drops of blood. She stumbled, hand subconsciously covering the bullet hole. She didn’t scream, though her vision darkened as the world tinted red. With a heave she felt her body tipping, the metallic taste of blood at her lips. She moved with labored breath towards the wall beside her, dark stains left on the brick as she slid, weakly knowing she had lost.
The soul and body began to blur through her tears, cueing the unseen spectator to begin her work. Another bullet found its mark, searing into her body and through her lung, and the reluctant unweaving began. The shadows now stood around her, men alive and dead, laughing as she twisted onto her back.
This was not how Fate was to unfold.
A hand gripped the girl-child’s neck, the fingers long and spider-like in their pale ferocity. They at first caressed the flesh, basking in their victory before dragging her along the pavement towards blank eyes. She tried to wince, reactions gone in a wash of red pain, every emotion seeming to mix and fade as she felt herself dying. He said nothing, heavy breath bringing tears to her eyes. Setting the gun to her center, the trigger made a soft click before the sound of splintering bone muted her final breath; the last possible thread was pulled from her body.
And the unweaving was done.
Yet the intruder hesitated. She knew something was amiss…the child was dead. But the job was deficient, she reasoned, due to the unusual circumstances. Through her eyes, however, green light pulsed dimly, still entwined within the cold flesh.
She watched it, three twisted strands curling like smoke along the bone and body. They fumbled around, alone as each writhed against the cold and death which encased them. Once again her mind strayed for an answer, inner conflict raging beneath the renewed calm of her face.
Something must be done.
But the consequences would be enormous.
The unintelligible emotions of the Reaper twisted within her – new, accidental, unwanted. But as she watched the light dance beneath the skin and snow, Pieces of a solution tied themselves together.
Before letting sanity recover, her own light flared red, pulsing as her plan began to take motion.
The boy was up on the rafters, coarse brown hair, as always, falling over his eyes, a single plait resting itself over his shoulder. His eyes were closed without movement, hands roughly thrown across his chest. Pale skin stood out among the many beams, his body deflated and unmoving in the dry cold about him. His jacket hung limp at his side, everything about him still. Soft light illuminated his form through a hole in the roof, the old wood creaking with the strain of years; the sky above him was gray and thick with water. Time passed slowly, a slight breeze hardly stirring him. A snowflake landed softly on his pale red lips, melting slowly through the muted heat of his body. More began to fall, and very soon the air was muffled with the tiny white stars.
His eyes opened effortlessly, unfocused up towards the snow and sky. They were icy, emotionless and unreadable, right eye yellow, the other green. Nothing moved, the darkness of dusk blurring the frozen rain into a wash of moving white. He stayed that way for a long time, hardly blinking as he watched the light fade even through the clouds. A sigh, so small as to be nearly unheard, escaped his pale lips. But he remained unmoving for only a moment before his body jerked up, attention focused on the floor below him. A match was struck, the tiny flame washing the ruined building in a yellow-orange light.
“We’re back,” a voice said, soft, yet distinctly male.
“We found you something, Rotten!” a smaller voice squeaked, clearly female.
Beneath him, two figures stood. One, a small girl, shifted impatiently, jumping childlike around as she smiled up at him. Her face was round and soft, a small nose accentuating dark, cherubic lips. She looked young, not over 14, with pink hair and livid green eyes. A baby-doll dress and Mary Jane shoes covered her, along with a red headband. On her dress the word “Apple” was printed in small letters, a matching image decorating her right shoulder. In her hands she held the candle, defending it against the chill of night and snow.
The other simply stared into space, looking bored as his smaller companion danced in her excitement. Long white hair flowed down his back, hiding his features and face. Beneath, however, deep yellow eyes were accented by a thin mouth pursed in ever present frustration. His ears, uncovered by his long white hair, were densely pierced. In this boy’s pocket, a rusty chain dangled nearly to the floor, tinkling along to the slight movements of his body. He wore a simple white t-shirt, overly-large dark baggy pants hanging over ratty sneakers. On his arm, the word “Cake,” was marked, hidden, now, beneath a black armband.
The one above them, Rotten, said nothing, jumping down effortlessly and almost smiling as the younger hugged him around the middle. He looked down, putting an open hand protectively atop her head.
“Show him, Cake” She said, separating herself from her friend’s hand and setting the candle down gently on the floor. Running back, she stood at the white-haired boy’s side, excited and craning her neck to see what she already knew was there.
A small, rusty blade was centered in Cake’s palm, the metal worn down by many years. The blade was made of steel, the hilt polished copper. It was curved, small enough to be easily hidden. Rotten took it, caressing it between his fingers, face unreadable in the dim yellow light. Apple smiled, knowing he was pleased.
She had fallen asleep resting against the far wall, small body covered in a thin blanket and undershirt. Cake, too, was there, breathing shallow alongside his sister. The flame had died out long ago, helping faint shadows fill the silence. The snow had stopped as well, leaving only a blanket of cold behind. In the darkness, Rotten examined his gift, face nearly expressive in his concentration. Though rust and time had dulled it, he felt up the blade, caressing the material, hands and eyes searching. He was looking for something, though he didn’t know what. The wisdom of years had told him to trust his instincts, and they were calling to him now. At last he stopped, mind focused on what was before him. A name was engraved into the handle, so worn as to be almost unnoticeable. The letters were outlined in faded green light, the strands barely moving. From
Kneeling besides the cadaver, Murder began to weave. Through examination, she could see that the girl had been badly beaten, blood now cold and stagnant beneath her skin. A lung was ripped, bones shattered, small fragments punctured into the thin membrane of her heart. And the light reached out, calling wordlessly to the reaper, desperate to repair its vessel and master.
The process was long and arduous, difficult because of the damage. Murder let her fingers weave her light into each crevice of the body, beginning with the damaged heart. She drew out the shattered bones, watching in silent joy as they fused back, wrapped together by her own red light. The lungs were simple enough, the film quickly mending beneath her touch. The bullets were gradually removed; difficult due to their positions, yet one by one the twisted masses were extracted. Their wounds closed slowly, but it was impossible to remove the scars. As she watched, each ligament and tear was slowly twisted and repaired, the green light softly becoming a deep scarlet. The blood drew up, becoming permanent designs all along the girl’s body, curling like smoke and entwined within the flesh. The liquid snaked itself upon the scalp, a halo of deep color, hair long ago shriveled and dead upon the pavement.
With a last heave, Murder tore her light away, the body finally repaired.
And the girl began to breathe.
The creature had been cornered, hidden deep within the moving shadows of the City. He had his back arched forward, body crouched, tense and pressed hard against the black brick surrounding him. Through the darkness, his body appeared twisted and strained, veins visibly snaking along his pale wrists, though the air around him radiated calm. His hands, slightly illuminated, were like spiders, nails dug deep into the clay, taut and ready to strike. Ragged black hair fell over his face, drowning every feature but his eyes, the irises invisible behind black pupils. They drew in everything around, deep pools of madness, spite and despair.
He spoke, words resounding deep within the labyrinth, piercing the other, whose shadowed eyes animated in anger as he stood erect against the creature before him. Neither moved, a silent battle raging with their eyes, both struggling for the lead. The moments seemed lifetimes as they continued their struggle, the time around them seeming to stop. But a small light of realization hit the creature, his eyes looking past the man before him, a wide smile exposing his discovery. It took the other only a moment, body tensing involuntarily as he realized too late what was happening. His eyes widened in desperation, hands moving to catch the creature as it darted past him, towards the opposite wall. Catching the children with his spider-like hands, he held them fast by their hair. Their small forms writhed in desperation beneath his grasp, his chilling laugh echoing through the alleys. He spoke again, voice livid in arrogance, and held up the figures in triumph, all three silhouetted against the dim light.
“Let them go,” the man breathed, face once again blank as his mind screamed.
The monster simply smiled, holding the children higher. Though he said nothing, the message was painfully clear. Still the man would not move, rooted to the spot in disbelief and anger. The monster’s sick smile widened, knowing his advantage was greater, and he laughed, voice like daggers, as he knew he had won.
“I always knew you were soft.” The creature’s voice was rough, eyes piercing the man he once called his friend. Dropping one of the children, his pale hands were illuminated as he dug his nails into the other’s exposed back. She screamed, the sound grotesquely animalistic, her pain removing all ability to beg for mercy. As the hand dug deeper into her flesh, black light bled into her frail body, back arching to avoid the pain while her cries grew ever louder and wilder. He laughed again, form tensed in exhilaration as he watched her squirm. Throwing her to the ground, she thrashed upon the pavement, clawing, nails digging into her own soft flesh in torment, still unable to speak.
The other looked on in horror, rooted to the spot as he watched her, disbelieving. The monster took him by the throat, stroking the white skin before squeezing, watching him choke. The boy’s eyes were open as he tore frantically at the hands that ripped into his skin, spiders to prey. With a laugh, the monster dug his hands deeper into the boy, letting the same black light seep into his neck.
Releasing him, the monster just turned away, not bothering to watch the form as it joined the other on the pavement. And there was silence, but for the children’s screams.
She inhaled, a quick choking of breath, eventually giving way to the soft, constant movement of her chest as it took in air. Her breath curled upwards in the cool night, dancing as it disappeared, lips moving slightly with each exhale. She was flushed, blood once again running through her, heartbeat steady. Her left hand twitched, making an indent in the snow, tiny spasms animating her otherwise unmoving form along her arms and legs. The crystals of ice that had held her began to melt in her revived heat, enhancing the movements already coursing through her. She was whole and living once again; a living body below a darkened sky. But all was different; everything had changed. A new light had been twisted with the previous three, scarlet slowly coalescing with what had once been. And the girl only breathed, her mind shut as it, too, tried to mend. Murder knew she would not wake. Not yet. The Reaper only watched in awe.
The call came unexpectedly to Rotten. He woke with a start, nothing but a faint intake of breath revealing his surprise, fist absentmindedly tightening around the small dagger still in his left hand. He felt no pain as it bit into him, a bead of black blood blooming on his palm. The all-too-familiar pulse of his call beat at the soft flesh of his lips, the living image moving upon the tissue. The obscure sign twisted silently, relaying death’s message to the Reaper. He smiled at the irony of the sensation, its tragic beauty, like the faint kiss of a ghost.
None of the messages were ever clear when Death called to him. She used no words but his name, his true name, and even then it was still only a touch. Yet this time, something was amiss. Through her soft kiss-like message, he could feel something – something wrong. Something he wasn’t able to place. He dismissed it, looking down to his palm as lines of black liquid etched themselves on the dagger, seeping into it’s scratched surface and scarring its rusted frame. He always found a way to bleed when she called him – it was easier that way.
Using his abnormally sharp hands, Rotten began to etch the frame into the wall beside him, careful not to wake the children still asleep across the partial darkness. Looking at the sky, he noted carefully the time - barely 5 minutes before midnight – just in case she kept him overly long. His face was blank as moonlight caressed it, the clouds all but clear, and he thought, for a moment, of how striking the night was after snow. Looking back, he began to focus on his current task of making the doorway, a task time consuming but easier than finding another. He dipped his right hand into the blood pooled in his left, easily outlining the door in the liquid. He finished quickly, blood on the wall hardening as it, too, began to change. Without hesitation, he pushed, the slight movement moving the segment silently, until it seemed to fall away completely. He crouched, sliding through the gap until he felt himself land in the total darkness of the timeless staircase he knew so well.
Murder exhaled involuntarily when it came, unsurprised at the familiar, anticipated whisper on her back. She felt death’s sharp anger in its pulse, stabbing at her with its soft, twisting, incoherent message. She looked over at the body, absentmindedly running her hand over the scars it bore, finding its dull warmth strangely comforting. She, the girl who died, was alive. Alive. She marveled at it, at herself, at the world. And she smiled without understanding why, letting the odd motion stay as it was.
The black mark twisted fiercely, Death’s command biting ruthlessly into her skin. She sighed heavily, looking up apprehensively, pleading inwardly for guidance. Drawing the girl into her arms, she lifted her small body almost effortlessly, as much to keep her as to calm herself.
Murder walked slowly through the winding alleys, knowing instinctively which way to turn. Her doorway was not far. If only the girl would wake.