For SPFBO 9 I’m returning to my old tradition, where I offer to the authors in our batch a spotlight on Queen’s Book Asylum. While in previous years I created a new feature, this year I let them choose between all of my available ones: What the Hungarian?!, Tales from the Asylum, Stuck in the Pages, Party with the Stars, To Be Continued…, as well as the regular author spotlight options of an interview, and a guest post.
To my delight, several of the authors wanted to take part in To Be Continued… So much so, that we won’t have one, but two stories for you, each consisting of 4 parts! Story 1 is titled Something Twisted This Way Comes which is kicked off by Bogdan Tăbușcă, the author of Galaxy of Thorns: Rise of the Empress.
If you are new to the To Be Continued… feature, here is how it works:
- the authors taking part have to write a short story based on my prompt, which for this SPFBO 9 Special Edition is illusion and dream in a carnival setting
- the authors taking part don’t know about each other
- each author has 2 weeks to write their part (after receiving the previous one(s))
- each part is somewhere around 1500 words, although some tend to be longer
Fun fact: I based this prompt on two Poets of the Fall songs, Illusion and Dream and Carnival of Rust (which happens to be one of my favorite songs). I was super curious about what the authors will make of this prompt. Something Twisted This Way Comes went in a wildly different direction than I expected, but that is what makes this feature fun. So, let the story begin!
The sky was bleak and full of gloom, shedding tears that turned to mud.
The land was barren with fields full of rotting weeds.
The chill winds of autumn pushed away the fog, revealing a rundown hamlet in the distance. Beyond it, there stretched a forest whose leaves turned brown, yet refused to fall.
Everything went still.
A painting of decay.
Then, the ringing of a flimsy bell.
Through the lifting mist came black horses dragging a red colored stagecoach.
Another one followed and then another, until an entire convoy revealed itself.
It was an entire circus, a carnival of sorts. It looked like a joyous sight among all the bleakness. A vivid red caravan flowing through a dead and empty road.
The few lights inside the hamlet flickered out.
They knew, and they had every right to be afraid.
The golden bells that jiggled atop the roofs of some carriages, did so along bleached skulls.
The cloths of the stagecoaches were not entirely red, but tri-colored, with white and brown stripes that had once been a brighter shade of red than the first.
The drivers themselves wore robes of black, hooded with masks that covered their faces, masks with visages of sorrow and despair.
Worst of all were the figures that started to emerge.
Howling like animals and laughing. Men dressed like fools and jesters, wielding axes, blades and long two handers. All wearing masks of comedy and malice.
They jumped down from their coaches, impatient for the thrill of slaughter that awaited them.
They rushed forward, towards the hamlet, making morbid jokes and laughing like crazed men, waving their weapons as they did so.
Trisfan sighed, kicked open the door of his own carriage and walked after them.
If this was some encampment of soldiers, he would have already been ahead of them, rapier and crossbow in hand, cackling like a maniac along the way.
The homes of a few peasants no longer provided any excitement for him. No real battle to be had there.
Business was still good, being in a wartorn country and all, but winter was soon approaching and with it the end of the campaigning season.
Trisfan both loved and hated the quiet. In it, he could focus, but when all was still, his heart raced. Voices called and screams that only he could hear filled his head.
He tightened his grip on the rapier and increased his pace, the plates of his brigandine creaking.
They should have gone south, to where the war was still actively fought.
They were among the most feared bands of mercenaries and they had a reputation to maintain.
He brought the proposal up with the mad master, but it was laughed off. Pushing it further would mean that his head would roll and even so, it was very foolish and bold of him to do so.
He almost got his tongue cut off for even referring to their troupe as mercenaries.
The mad master despised that word and insisted that they were nothing more than an entertainment company.
In a way, he was right.
They existed to entertain him and his enemies to death.
Trisfan entered the hamlet, but the party had long started without him.
The clowns and jesters had already hacked the doors and windows to pieces and now were dragging the screaming wives of farmers outside.
The few who tried to resist were butchered and they were considered among the lucky.
Those unlucky, had their hands chopped off and kicked around by his men.
Trisfan looked to his right, where a windmill lay.
The guys found a new way to entertain themselves, by tying noses around the peasants necks and then hooking them to the blades of the windmill.
As the wheel turned, they laughed and their victims squirmed for breath.
It would have once amused Trisfan as well, but not today.
He felt nothing at that moment.
Droplets of rain started to fall again and he looked down into a muddy puddle that lay at his feet.
His flamboyant figure reflected back at him and his mask…
Unlike the rest of his armor, his mask was simple. Half of it was a malicious grin of sadistic joy and the other was just pure white with only an angry eye staring back.
Trisfan the Grinning… Or at the very least that was the name that his mad master had given him.
He could only remember scarce glimpses of his life before the carnival…
His eye caught movement in the water and he raised his gaze.
An old man tried to run across the street, towards the stables on the other side and probably to the forest beyond.
Trisfan pointed his crossbow at him.
His bolt struck true, impaling itself into the man’s back, causing him to fall face first into the mud.
He tried to crawl up, using one of the support pillars at the stable’s entrance to do so, but it was all in vain.
Trisfan walked up to him and put his pointed boot against the bolt, pushing it through to the other side.
The man screamed and cried, all falling on deaf ears.
He kicked the man on his back and pulled out the bolt from him.
He wasn’t going to waste such an expensive bolt on chaff like him.
Trisfan held the bolt out, next to a water stream flowing from the roof of the stable cleaning it of blood.
Doing so, he noticed that the basement entrance at the back of the nearby building, opened up. Its sound drowned out by the intensifying rain.
From it, two women hurried out ten or so children, urging them to run towards the forest and not look back.
They panicked and ran as well once they saw him.
Trisfan calmly walked towards the back, looking at the poor souls that fled before him.
Maybe a hunt would heat up his ice cold soul…
The idea intrigued him, but for some reason, he just felt tired.
“Giving your victims a chance to escape?”
The mocking voice that came from behind him sent a shiver down his spine.
There were few men in the world who could do that and, unfortunately, he knew this one all too well…
The Jackal moved beside him, squatting down, daggers at the ready.
Unlike him, he wore mail weaved and intertwined with his jester costume, his mask was half cackling malice and half grinning dog.
He was a large lean man, standing over two meters in height, but he rarely stretched to his full height. Most of the time he stood hunched over or squatted down, hiding his true height. Occasionally, he would even run on all fours, howling while charging into battle.
The man that sat beside him was a monster in every sense of the word, an obsessed actor of unknown origin.
“Does this bring back memories!?” he asked, amused.
“Memories? Memories of what?…”
“Oh come, now… “ the Jackal said, placing an arm over Trisfan’s shoulders. “Look at them… The younglings… They’re perfect…”
“Perfect for slaughter…”
“Uff… Is blood and battle all that tickles you?”
He drew closer to his ear and whispered into it.
“It’s the scent… The fear… The hope…” He giggled to himself. “They are perfect to be broken… To be remodeled and reshaped… To be born anew…”
The Jackal retracted his arm and instead moved in front of him, gripping both of his shoulders, while almost trying to sniff him, to glance beneath his mask.
“Do you still remember?… Remember what I’ve told you when we first met?”
Trisfan’s blood ran cold, but his lips moved of their own accord.
“That broken illusions lead to broken dreams…”
“That’s right, my dear boy…” said the Jackal, caressing his cheek with the back of his hand.
A grin formed beneath his mask, one so big that even Trisfan could discern.
“Now let’s go break theirs…”
With those words, he turned around and rushed towards the forest, towards his fresh meat.
Trisfan blinked, remembering to breathe again.
A tear ran down from his cheek…
It was him… It was the Jackal that first hounded him, it was him who turned him and broke him and then gave him to the master to be remade…
He started running towards the forest, his feet moving of their own accord.
It was the same as that night… with the only difference being that the roles were now reversed…
Break his mask, stomp his skull to mush… “I broke your illusion, now I break your dreams”… The boy plunked the skull with a stone… “There’s a good lad—” he lent a hand and hauled the child to his feet before tousling his hair“—now run like hell.”
To Be Continued…
Bogdan Tăbușcă‘s SPFBO 9 entry is Galaxy of Thorns: Rise of the Empress. Make sure to check it out!
For more To Be Continued… stories, check out this page!
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