On a moonless night, deep down in the planet, hides those who kneel in darkness, the sound of blood drips from daggers echo through the cavern. The sound of dedication to a deity unseen in form, but witnessed by action. They kneel in the purest form of darkness they could find, praying to the stone walls that they may give birth to their chaotic deity. All four kneel in silence waiting, before them sitting centre to their small commune stood a symbol in dedication to their deity. A desperate attempt at its true image, unfortunately constructing the symbol in the dark lead to mistakes to the design. The men that knelt in their cave could feel their mistakes weighing down upon them, they knew this was not to be enough. One man took it upon himself to help the situation, by reciting.
“Our ruler from heaven, Hollow be thy name. your kingdoms come, your will is done, on Hollow as it is your vision. Give us this night our nightly strength so we might survive your blight, and help those who know your name survive their fights. Lead us not into the light, but to chaos so we might know your might.”
As he finished, his last words echoed round and round till they sat once again in silence, a cold chill rolled around their small room piercing through the clothes they wore. Once again, he started to recite, this time his fellow acolytes joined in. Their deep voices sounded the ancient prayer as a final attempt to bring their lord before them. The louder they chanted the greater the wind formed around their symbol, they finished the prayer shouting to overcome the noise from the swirling storm in front of them. As the final words left their mouths they dropped to the ground, bowing with their faces pressed against the cold rocky floor of the cave. None of them dared to look up from the stone, footsteps were heard as they awaited their fates.
“Lord Anodyne, please understand why we requested your divine presence. I am Amar Otic, a follower of darkness, and your blight. We asked your presence so that you may bestow your chaotic blessing upon us.”
Anodyne circles the cave, examining each of the four as he did.
“You bring me here to gain my blessing, but I see no deeds done that justify my blessing. I stare at your souls and they are near pristine, if you want my blessing you will have to try much harder than a flimsy symbol and an old prayer.”
Still with face pressed against stone another spoke up.
“Your lord, I am Pandem Elam, I am a follower of chaos and your might. What must we do to gain your blessing? We have bled for you by our own hand, we sought the truest darkness we could, we constructed your symbol best we could. What more must we do?”
Anodyne closed his eyes, raising his hands he pulled the blood from the floor of the cave to the symbol placed in centre. As each drop landed on the symbol it rectified its image, improving the craft of the symbol.
“With blood this symbol shall turn to a shrine worthy of my name, bring back those you deem worthy of a sacrifice. Once this symbol no longer grows as blood flows call me once again, then your journey shall truly begin.”
Anodyne faded as he finished his words, leaving the men cold, face pressed against the stone of the cave. None of them dare look up less Anodyne still stood before them, they did not wish to offend him as they feared his powers and his loose mind. Three hours passed before they slowly started to raise their head, staring back into the still darkness of the cave.
None of the four men could see one another, with silence they entered the cave, with silence they sat after Anodyne left, once again with silence the four left their cave to return to the surface of the world.
Although they returned to the surface during nightfall their vision was nearly as clear as day.
“Already a blessing from Anodyne, our vision is improved.”
“Silence Rous, this is merely an effect from being in darker night. The blessing we gain from Anodyne shall be far more than low light vision. But first he craves blood.”
“I am sorry Amar, let us seek out fresh blood to bind to Anodynes symbol.”
The four men marched out into the night, looking for someone to catch so they might gain Anodyne’s blessing.
“We are close to the Library, we could claim librarians.”
“Rous, again I ask you to close your mouth, they are protected by Gleam eyes, we are yet to gain the blessing of our god. Please think before you speak, besides Luxoria is closer, we shall find blood there.”
All four headed north towards the widespread region of Luxoria, Rous following with his head hung in shame. He marched much slower than the rest as they approached tall grasses of Luxoria, the grasses that stood above head height.
“Luxoria’s boundaries, draw your weapons. Once in the tall grass we are prey for the Scarecrows, we move as one and as one we shall arrive on the other side.”
The four men moved into the grasses, losing sight of the sky overhead, and each other. They moved swiftly and as silent as the shifting grasses would allow. Slowing they came to a stop, their ears turning outwards to the sounds of the winds tickling the tops of the grasses. They were about to start their march again when the sound of shifting grasses caught their ears.
Rous whispered as he crouched to the ground.
“They are scouting, drop now.”
They all lowered themselves to a crouch, staring up into the grasses as small streaks of blue light broke through the tips. The sounds of shifting grass stopped, all four acolyte’s eyes darted around to ensure the movement had stopped. A great shifting of the grasses sounded and all four men started running, where they once slid as best they could through the grass, they now found themselves steaming through flattening all the grasses before them.
“The grass is sparse, we are near the end men, let loose your energy less the scarecrows get you.”
All four leaped through the final strands and over the fencing that defined the borders. Turning they saw a single scarecrow, pumpkin headed with glowing blue eyes and tendrils of fabric reaching towards the acolyte’s.
“Carmine do you have any words for our would-be captor?”
Carmine stared at Pandem before grasping his sword and moving on.
“A vow of silence is idiocy, what do you get from it? What does Anodyne get from it?”
“Leave Carmine alone, we all worship in different ways. If he believes this to be a way of pleasing Anodyne then it is. Now pick up your sword, we have lives to claim.”
The men moved into the town that laid before them, still shrouded by night. Years of living with a man vowed for silence left them with the ability to talk without voice.
“This house, back, open, two inside.” Carmine signed to the other three.
All four moved around back and found an unlocked door, as the door opened they poured in spreading out over the home. Pandem, Amar, and Rous found a room where a mother and daughter were asleep in loving embrace. Carmine found the hollow tubing of a gun barrel, staring him in the face as he was squatted on the kitchen floor.
“I thought I locked that back door, I guess it was a good thing I got up to check, wasn’t it? Well not good for you.”
Carmine kept his composure, he stared his capture in the eye. Slowly he raised his hand with only three fingers raised, he then turned his eyes and head towards the other side of the house. Turning back he raised a finger to his lips, the man’s gun hand shook as his eyes lit up with rage. He cocked his pistol and was ready to fire when he heard a thud from the other side of the house, the man struck Carmine before running to the other side of the house. He burst into the room where his wife was sleeping, both his wife and his daughter woke up to see him standing with his gun drawn. The man turned to get Carmine but was met with a fist, concussing him and dropping him to the floor. His gun falling towards forwards and into Amar’s hands. Picking it up he aimed towards the man.
Without blinking he dropped the hammer, the wife started to scream and Amar let loose burning metal through her chest. While she gargled on her own blood the daughter sat quietly.
“Gather their blood, we will have a better chance if we tap it here. I will go see if Carmine is still alive.”
The girl sat quietly eating as she watched the men string up and drain her parents blood. Once finished Carmine outstretched his hand to the little girl, she smiled and received him. Carmine picked her up and held her in his arms, she slung her head over his shoulder.
“We will need to find her another orphanage, maybe across town. We can’t have her being recognised.”
Pandem yawned after speaking, spreading it to the little girl. Her yawn revealing a tongue less mouth.
“As many questions as that raises it does answer one, you are a good father Carmine, I will never question your vow again.”
The four men packed away blood packs into their bags, then they took the girl and headed out into the town. The sun still had hours left before it were to grace the ground with its presence. In the night four men walked the streets with the blood of two others, clutching a girl in their arms, ready to leave her with another family, another set of victims for their cause.
Pandem lead the charge as they found an orphanage they had not visited before.
“We can leave her here, we have to make it back to our shrine.”
Carmine sat his daughter down in front of him and warmed her hands in his.
“I go now, you did well. We find you soon, work hard, stay alive.”
“Work hard, stay alive”
She hugged her father then curled up on the front step of the orphanage while the men walked off into the night.
“You never did tell us her name.”
“She not chosen one, so she has none.”
“I understand you don’t speak because your daughter can’t, but would it matter if you spoke now, when she isn’t around?”
Carmine stopped in his tracks cracking his knuckles.
“Listen hard because this is the only time you hear my voice.”
The others looked shocked as Carmine spoke for the first time since they met.
“I don’t speak because she cannot, I do not do it to be polite. I do it so I know her pain, she can’t just talk while she is away from me. I don’t talk because if I am to know her I need to know her pain, now no more question or I will fuck you bloody.”
Rous grinned. “I have learnt more about you in this one night than I have in the four years I have been worshipping with you.”
They walked through the late hours of the night, back to the golden sea of grasses that laid between them and their shrine. The grasses shone as the glow of the sun lit them up, amongst the grasses they could see the scare crow that nearly caught them earlier that night.
Amar walked to the edge of the scarecrows boundaries, sparking it to move towards him. He waited till its head was clearly above the grasses. He drew the pistol he stole and unloaded the gun into the scarecrows head, stopping it in its tracks.
“Take the gem in its head, we can sell it later. But do not take this ease of access, we must still be cautious, there are many more in these fields.”
The men rushed the dead scarecrow, climbing it to snatch the crystal that half hung out of the pumpkin that housed it. Once looted they started their swift movement through the tall grasses, stepping quietly as the morning light illuminated everything. Breaching the far side of the grasses they ran back to their cave, full sprint they made their way back.
They climbed down into the darkness back to their shrine.
“Don’t pour any blood, I do not want us wasting it.”
“Why would it be wasting it Amar, this is what we were asked to do.”
“Anodyne is the deity of chaos and night, it may be dark down here but it is still day. We wait till night before we donate our sacrifices.”
Rous sighed and lay down on the cold stone.
“I am tired from being up all night, I am tired from running, I am hot from running. This cold ground is almost a relaxing release, I will happily sleep here the day.”
They were awoken by the feeling of running liquid across their bodies, as their eyes open they could see as clear as day, although there was no light source. Above their heads swirled the blood they bought, forming intricate patterns before reaching the centre of the cave where once their shabby shrine of stone and wood stood. Now, a shrine forged from steel, standing as tall as the cave itself.
As the men gazed upwards Anodyne raised from the ground, sitting himself upon the base of the shrine. Beside him stood the Conductor, tall and proud, his hat being high enough to catch the attention of the men.
“You return with blood, blood enough for two. Which two of you shall accept my blessing this night?”
Amar stepped towards Anodyne. “I thought about this on the trip back, give it to Rous and Pandem. Carmine and I can wait.”
Pandem and Rous stepped forward as Amar sat down next to Carmine, watching as the pools of blood seemed to circle around the two standing men.
“You have claimed lives for me, brought me their blood. I watched as you used such a genius deception to claim them. I was nearly impressed, for that I hope these blessings are good to you.”
The blood swirled faster and faster till it fully surrounded them, their screams sounded, and limbs moved through the blood, then silence. The blood parted and before them Rous was hunched over holding his head, while Pandem was nowhere to be seen. Instead where he once stood laid a blade, a dagger of fine design, a black blade with a golden handle.
“This is what happens when you wish a blessing from the deity of chaos.”
Anodyne walked over and picked up the blade.
“It seems as if this one has turned into a seemingly unbreakable dagger, while you, you have been given the gift of knowledge.”
Anodyne grasped Rous’s head in his hands, he stared deeply into his eyes.
“Yes, you have been given the knowledge of medicine. All medicines that are possible on Hollow at least. Unless you have more to offer I am to leave.”
Anodyne snapped his fingers and the darkness seemed to return to the cave, Amar rushed over to the blade before darkness fully returned. He ran his thumb over the handle, recoiling as he felt something soft. Staring his vision adjusted to the low light, in the handle was an eye as brown as Pandem’s had been.
“We prayed for chaos, we received chaos. I look forward to the blessings we may receive one day.”
Amar lead the others from the cave where they headed back towards their home, a stone home in the middle of the woods. A sanctuary from the night’s monsters.
“Rous are you fine?”
“Fine? I am better than fine, I am blessed. I can see every recipe of medicine there is, from the most advanced right down to the most rudimental. We have been blessed with a gift.”
“Do you think Pandem feels the same way?”
Carmine took the dagger from Amar to examine it, he ran his hand through the fine carved handle, carefully avoiding the eyes that sat either side.
Rous drew his sword looking around, Amar followed suit while Carmine held Pandem ready.
“I saw movement, stay strong brothers for our house is in sight.”
A small fast moving creature darted around them, scouting their form. Staying ever out of sight from the Acolytes till it struck at Carmine.
“Do not fear it is a Dartling, it’s pack must have been killed. We have nothing to fear this night, why don’t you test Pandem on it Carmine?”
Carmine smiled as he flung Pandem around, lowering his stance, tracing the Dartling. As it moved in Carmine moved with it, spinning he sliced the leg of the beast. It fell screaming to the ground in agony, as the dagger sunk into the soft skin the screaming stopped. Pulling it out however started different screams, the dagger resonated with a bone chilling scream as it grew slightly in size.
“Amar, Carmine. I believe there is more to Pandem than we know, let us get home we have a lot to discover.