Black Reverb (Short Story): Part O4

Conn McCloskey, Contributor.

The Message

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Artwork provided by author

The King had allowed himself to be embraced in the comforts of Nyla until she had passed into a deep sleep before he untangled himself from her, electing to let her rest. Shrugging his trousers back on, he sat himself down and pulled out his new blade, sitting it across his lap. He examined its intricacies. From its delicately carved pommel, to the finely crafted steel of the blade itself. As he was running his finger along its length he was interrupted by the shuffling of cards. He brought his entire body around to the direction of the sound and found an interesting sight before him. There was a man sitting on a chair that had not been there moments before. He wore fine leather boots which he crossed over one another. His trousers and suit alike were finely crafted pieces of attire and would have cost a fortune for the ordinary man to attain, but the King knew this was no ordinary man, for on his face he wore a porcelain mask. Said mask, which was set in a wide smile, was looking at him as its wearer continued to shuffle his deck of cards between his leather gloved hands.

“My friend, you are an emotional train wreck if ever I saw one”, the shuffling man said in a thin, almost feminine, voice. The King found himself at a disadvantage and made to call over to Nyla only to snap his attention back to the porcelain masked man as he stopped shuffling his cards to bring his finger to the lips of his mask. “Let’s let her sleep”, he said through his finger before lowering it.

“My business is with you and you alone.” He rose himself up from the chair and once again resumed shuffling his cards. “Besides, you’re the only one who can see me.”

He flicked a card between his fore and middle finger, pointing it at the King’s eye of night. The King brought his hand to his eye, feeling a dull buzz behind it but no pain, before lowering his hand once again to his side. The King brought his sword forward and leaned his chin on it, before saying “alright then, let’s hear what you’ve got to say. But first things first.” He lifted his blade and pointed it at the sitting figure. “What’s your name stranger?”

 The Porcelain man ceased the shuffling of his deck and brought his free hand forward, snapping his fingers as he did so, before ending the motion by pointing at the King.

 “I am called Jack of Spades by my fellows. My own name is lost to me… I suppose that’s one thing you and I have in common. That makes us fellows. So, you may call me what others do.”

The King once again lowered his blade as he watched the stoic figure continue to shuffle his deck, attention entirely focused on his task at hand. While still doing this, he continued

“My… benefactor, would propose a deal between you and him.” The King’s grip on his sword tightened. He did not need to guess to know which master this slave served. Through gritted teeth he managed to spit out: “and what, does he propose?”

The Porcelain Man, Jack of Spades, once more snapped his fingers and pointed his hand to the nothing above.

“You have a predicament” he spoke gently, “and we have the solution. You are trapped here in this realm of nothing and we have the only way out. If you are willing to drop this meaningless crusade against us, we would be more than happy to let you travel to any world of your choosing.”

The King rose steadily to his feet, tapping his finger dangerously against the pommel of his blade as he did so.

“And then what? Wait around until you devour that one as well? No. I will end this madness now.”

Jack of Spades let out a small, yet audible sigh and brought his free hand up to the eyes of his mask in frustration before saying: “you simply cannot understand what we are doing, you know nothing, and I have not the time to lecture a mere child on the- “ He paused before looking back over his shoulder at the still sleeping Nyla staring at her in silence. The King put his foot forward and gripped his weapon as the well-dressed man slowly craned his head back to regard him.

“Why” he slowly drawled out, “I didn’t know his majesty was bringing an old friend with him.”

The King grinded his teeth as he endured the mirth of this figure, silently plotting his next move.

“I must say your majesty, I am impressed.”

The man continued in that same slow and pondering voice, once more shuffling the cards in his hands and returning his gaze to them

“In my experience that one is as warm as… well as warm as I am. But you’ve somehow managed to get her into your bed. A fascinating aspect of your character among many others. Consider me impressed.”

Suddenly Jack began to walk slowly forwards, waist coat lifting as he did so, and leaned dangerously close to the King.

“Is that the problem?” he whispered, eyes once again returning to his cards before flicking back up, “do you not want to leave your sex toy behind? Because I’m sure we can- “he was interrupted by the King’s blade running him through his gut. His masked eyes snapped down to his wound before going back up to the King’s own. The King savagely twisted the blade causing Jack to gasp and fall back, sliding off the blade, hands clasping at his wound as he twisted in silent pain on the floor. The King coldly regarded the man as he went through his death throughs, not looking away until his struggles continued to weaken, before finally stopping altogether. Hocking his throat, he spat phlegm on the now dead man’s mask before making his way over the body and back to Nyla. He felt a dark shadow rise and bite into the very core of his soul, for as he walked he heard laughter coming from the direction of the dead man. Whipping around, blade at the ready, he saw Jack back on his feet once more, shuffling his deck of cards in an even faster manner than before.

“You are truly a disappointment, King of failure,” he sighed, “not only to me, but to your dead people… all that wasted potential.”

The King felt his fury begin to rise as he once more made ready to strike this monster down. Said monster brought both his hands up in a motion of surrender, the deck disappearing as he did so.

 “But keep your peace then for we shall be seeing you soon.” At this he brought forth a card, the three of hearts, from his sleeve and into his waiting fingers “that is, if we see you at all… but I’ll be rooting for you.”

As he said this, he threw the card down at the King’s feet before his body disappeared in a smoke like fashion, leaving the chilling image of the mask behind for a few brief moments before disappearing entirely. The King lowered his blade and bent down to pick up the card before him, turning it over in his fingers, only to drop it as it burst into a black flame. He watched it turn to ember as a cold spasm went up his spine and his hairs stood on the back of his neck. Something was coming. He turned once more and went to wake Nyla, leaving the ashes of the card to drift away in his wake.

Part 4

Almost as soon as Nyla had awoken and dressed herself, they came. Through the gap in the wall they pulled themselves from, contorting their bodies unnaturally, bones clicking and snapping into place. When they emerged from this performance, they stood shoulder to shoulder looking towards the King and Nyla. There was three of them. Each wore a mask of a certain emotion, but all were dressed in the same blood red, skin tight, armour. They reminded the King of a traveling band of performers that had danced once for his father at a feast when he was young, but where their act had brought forth laughter from all assembled, the twists of these figures inspired only a cold quiet dread.

The grinning one, who had a more feminine body shape than the others, held a long piece of rope with a savage dart on its end that she dangled dangerously before her. The weeping one, who had an eerily thin and stretched frame, had two savagely shaped hooked blades in his hands that he twisted with a style that was alien to the King, but nonetheless presented a professional manner and presented a significant threat.

The third and final crimson armoured figure had a mask of pure rage and was far more muscular than the others. He was even better built than Black Barra had been, and few men were better built than Black Barra. On his thick muscular arms were a strange pair of gauntlets that flashed with an eye-catching orange flare, in opposite to the streak of blue on the King’s own pistol. The King placed his hand on said pistol at his side before stepping forward and calling out.

“Begone from this place, we have no quarrel with you.” The weeping one matched his movement by stepping forward.

“And we have none with you” it said in a shaky voice, as if he was about to burst into the tears that already streaked his mask. The grinning one stepped besides him, giggling as it did so.

“But we have a debt to pay… and you are the price”, the wrathful one barked, marching besides its companions, rolling his thick shoulders as he did so.

The King’s eyes could barely follow what happened next, such was its speed. The trio charged forward towards him and Nyla, rolling over the ground and leaping as they did so. There was a flash of light as Nyla readied and fired her weapon, only for the wrathful one to capture the blast with a strange crystal-like mirror produced by his gauntlet, before throwing back his shoulders and seemingly tossing the projectile back at its sender. The blast was so powerful that the explosion, despite narrowly missing them both, sent the King and Nyla flying in opposite directions from one another, kicking up a cloud of rubble as it did so, obscuring their vision. The King managed to pick himself up and draw his sword, before realising that his pistol had slid out of his hand and had landed next to a large piece of rubble. He ran over and tried to pick it up, only for a dart on a piece of rope to catch it and pull it back into the waiting hands of the grinning one.

The King reached into his jacket to grab the Kaldenan pistol but was forced to defend himself as the weeping one came slashing at him through the dust. He managed to catch the first few strikes with his blade, parrying them to the side and throwing himself forward as he tried to impale his adversary on his weapon, only for the weeping one to dance nimbly aside. The King just managed to catch the oncoming dart with the flat of his blade, stopping it from going straight through his chest, but still knocking the wind out of him from the force of the impact. Gasping and holding his now bruised chest, he managed to look up just in time to catch both the blades of the weeping one swinging down on him with his own. The weeping one pushed himself forward, pale eyes locked with the King’s own. The thin wispy man had an unnatural amount of strength, for his frame had even managed to push the King back a few shaky steps. The two of them struggled like that, the pressure of the connection causing the King’s arms to shake with the effort, until they were both knocked over by yet another explosion to the side of them. The King slid along the floor, curling himself up into a ball as his body connected roughly with the edge of a stone wall. Slowly, he again rose to his feet, using the blade for support as he did so. As the smoke cleared around him, it revealed the weeping one also lifting itself up directly across from him. The King roared and threw himself forward, bringing his blade down on the struggling man. He easily batted aside the weeping one’s meagre attempts at a defence with the hooked blades, and with a final, almighty roar, he brought his blade down in a slash on the weeping one’s mask, cleaving it in two as green blood spewed forth from it, coating the black marble floor in the stuff.

The weeping one slid down onto the ground and lay still. Gazing across the still clearing smoke he saw Nyla narrowly managing to dodge the dart from the grinning one, before firing her own weapon in retaliation. Her shot didn’t connect as the wrathful one slid in front of it, with a speed unusual for a man of his immense size and once more absorbed it with the crystal from his gauntlets. Throwing his arms forward he launched the projectile back at Nyla, making it explode in front of her, sending her flying back into the wall where she connected with a heavy thud before sliding down to the floor, unmoving. The wrathful one let his hands fall back to his side while the grinning one began skipping her way over to where Nyla lay, twirling her weapon as she did so.

Channeling his rage and worry into a single purpose, the King sprinted across the open expanse as fast as he could. The wrathful one froze in his movement, spinning around with gauntlets at the ready. This time he was too slow. Before he had had time to react, the King had already run through him with his weapon. The wrathful one roared in agony as his clawed hand gripped onto the King’s blade, bringing his other one up to smack him in the face, knocking him back. The King brought his now free hands up to his face, where fresh blood spewed from his mouth. He had bitten down on his tongue, puncturing it and releasing the salty blood from his wound down the corners of his mouth. Clearing his mind from the pain he watched in horrific fascination as the wrathful one slowly dragged the green stained sword from its body before snapping it in two with its armoured hands. Bellowing, he threw the shattered remnants at the King before charging at him, hands outstretched. The roar was cut off by the crack of the Kaldenan musket blowing the top half of the charging man’s head off, sending bits of mask and brain matter flying all over the King. Bending down, he picked up the handle of his now ruined blade and charged forward to confront the final, grinning, contortionist, who had stopped a few feet from where the still Nyla lay. His run was interrupted by a blinding pain from his eye of day. He collapsed screaming to the ground, holding onto the bloody mess as the vision faded from it. Over his cries of pain, he could hear the laughter of the grinning one as she made her way over to him.

“Is his majesty in pain?” she said mockingly, twirling her bloody weapon. “For I have the antidote in my hands” she continued in a malicious voice as she brought the bloody dart to her mask and mimicked licking it, drawing a red smear across her grinning visage. The King’s only reply was more moans as he began to lose the vision in his only remaining eye from the overwhelming pain.

“Yes” she said kneeling down next to him and grabbing him roughly by the hair, “I think you want to go to sleep as much as he told me you did.”

Pulling him in tight against her dart she leant into him and whispered, “I can help you with that”. In one swift motion she brought the dart to his throat and made ready to cut it. The blast tore through her chest and went by the King, hitting the ground besides him. As the grinning one gasped in shock, the King grabbed the dart from her loosening hands and slammed it through her eye, driving it forward with the palm of his hand. Shrugging through the pain from his now ruined eye, he pushed the now dead grinning one off him and picked himself up. He was in a world of hurt, his eye ruined, his tongue ripped and who knows what other wounds still to come before they would make it to the gate. Blinking his one remaining unnatural eye open he looked over to see Nyla holding her smoking gun. Her mouth was covered in a blue substance, which he reckoned was her blood, but other than that she looked fine.

Upon her seeing him she immediately ran over, bag in hand.

“Are you alright?”, she said, sitting down next to him, throwing open her bag and desperately rummaging through it before looking back up again.

“Oh my maker! Your eye!” she said before once again reaching back into her bag, tears streaming down her face. “I can- I can stop the bleeding if I-I just-“ she stammered, hands shaking as she desperately plunged a rod into the King’s shoulder, making him freeze up. The pain in his tongue and eye slowly faded, but his vision did not return.

“If we get back to the tower then I can m-maybe get a- “

The King interrupted her panic by clasping her hands together with his own and wiping away the tears from her face with his thumb.

“Nyla” he whispered. “It’s alright.”

Nyla responded by bringing her downcast, violet eyes up from the ground to meet his own. She smiled weakly at him and he smiled back. Suddenly that smile dropped from her face and her mouth formed a silent “oh” as the King heard a loud ripping noise and felt his trousers be stained with something wet. Behind Nyla appeared to be the broken mask of the weeping one, whose now revealed half showed a bloody, ashen and blind side that was twisted in a horrifying grin of pointed teeth. The King looked down, and to his horror, he saw the hooked blades of the weeping one thrust through Nyla’s midsection, causing blue blood to seep out of her. The King’s eyes went back up to Nyla’s. She held his gaze and placed her hands against his chest, before leaning forward and whispering something in his ear. She pushed him forward and the horrible hooked blades ripped out of her as she fell to the ground. The King lay on the floor in abject horror as he watched the pool of blue blood form around her, all while the weeping one stood over her.

“This day has cost me dearly”, the weeping on said through his sharp teeth, “perhaps now, you will understand something of that”. He was like a man possessed, the King, as he threw himself forward. Rather than resist him, the weeping one simply lifted his hands to his sides and dropped the hooked blades from his hands, only reacting when the King crashed into him. The weeping one grabbed him by his shoulders as they rolled over one another, ending with him on top of the king.

“You are angry… that is perfect”, he whispered into his ear. The King showed how enraged he was by smashing his fist against the weeping one’s face, knocking him back onto the floor. Throwing himself on top of the weeping one, he was once again grabbed by him, and pulled him down to his face.

“Avenge us…” the weeping one whispered before releasing him. The King sat atop the weeping one for a long while, smashing the hilt of his broken blade into his face and when that broke, he used his fists until there was nothing left for him to pummel but a wet green mess. Finally stopping himself, he crawled over to the silent Nyla and tenderly touched her hair, drawing his fingers along it. Her mouth hung open in that same silent expression she had had on her face when the blade pierced. He picked up her still body, ignoring the blue blood that seeped into his clothes as he covered her with his jacket. He picked up his dropped pistol and made his way out from the damned place. Nyla was light in his arms and heavy in his soul. He kept his singular eye pointed forward, mind entirely focused on picking his way through the city towards the gateway. He dared not look down at the woman in his arms, he was not sure if he could bare it. Wondering across the city, he heard the whispers of the past, seeping its way through his eye and into his brain.

“A fine day to die, isn’t it lad?” Black Barra barked as he walked besides him, carrying his massive bear pelted frame with ease. He slapped him on the back and gave a toothy grin, only to fade into nothing, being replaced by his friend Brave Loeg who strummed his famous lute as he walked besides him.

“The music of life, my friend” he mused as he walked, “is an echo of joy singular in existence, matched in its existence only by its polar opposite, the reverb of war.”

 He too drifted away taking his last song with him as he did so. The music left with him, slowly echoing its way after its progenitor, but instead of fading to nothing it was moulded into something different: his mother, who hummed that same song while braiding her brilliant golden hair as she walked beside him, ignorant to his existence. He tried to call out to her as she walked ahead of him, he tried to run after her, but Nyla’s body was too heavy and she soon went around a corner and out of his sight. When he followed her, he found only his father standing before him.

“No good son of a mangy whore!” he roared at him. The King was shocked at first, but soon he simply walked through him, ignoring him as he cried after him.

 “Come back you bastard! Come back here now! Return my son! Don’t leave me! Not you too!”

Finally, at the end of the street he saw Brougha. He said nothing, only pointed with his large meaty hand towards a door before disappearing with a sad smile. The King followed his direction and, opening the door he found a large chamber inside the building, dominated by a waterfall and pool in its middle. It was a rare spot of beauty in the dreary place. Picking up pieces of rubble, he set Nyla down and covered her body as best as he could, leaving her weapon atop the makeshift grave as was tradition. He sat himself down and watched the grave for a while, but unable to bear keeping his vision on it for too long, he looked away from it and into the pool of water. In it he saw Nyla standing, the water coming up to her waist. She was smiling at him and her hair was done along her shoulders. The King reached his hand towards her, but she simply whispered the same thing she whispered to him when she died. With that she dove under the water, leaving his vision forever.

Turning back towards her grave he tried to say something, anything. But he could not. He had done many burials in his time. A lot of them had been friends. Some of them had been lovers. None of them had left him alone. He realised then that he had never told her anything. This woman had taken him in when she could have left him for dead and saved his life. She had shown him the pathway to his revenge, and he had given her nothing in return. He took off the pendant from his neck and ran his fingers over it for a while before placing it atop the grave. Chin shaking, he ran his hands through his hair, eyes closed as he bit his emotions down.

“Cathal” he choked. “That was my name… Cathal.” But Nyla could say nothing now, nor would she ever again. Like everything else, he had been too late. It was another failure in what a long life of them had been. Standing up straight again, he looked down once more, as way of goodbye before he left.

“We should never have left the hotel…” was the last thing he would ever say in that place. Much like the tower he knew it was the last time he would ever see her when alive. After leaving the building, he placed the jacket back on and tied the eyepatch he had kept on his person ever since he left the tower all that time ago across his now blinded eye of day. As he left, he knew that his attempt to stop the other King was as doomed to failure as his last attempt atop the tower. He had no weapons but his pistol and the knife on his belt. His blade was ruined, and he refused to take the weapons of the weeping one, for they were still stained with the blood of Nyla. The Gauntlets he did not know how to use, and the dart was too deeply impaled inside the skull of the grinning one. He had no allies either, no friends and no lovers to fight side by side with him and he knew that with his mother’s locket gone he had lost his luck. Opening his gun, he placed his last six bullets into it before snapping it shut and swallowing hard. He knew, even as the gate came upon the horizon, that he was doomed to fail. But he had to try.

End of Part 4

Published by The Gown Queen's University Belfast

The Gown has provided respected, quality and independent student journalism from Queen's University, Belfast since its 1955 foundation, by Dr. Richard Herman. Having had an illustrious line of journalists and writers for almost 70 years, that proud history is extremely important to us. The Gown is consistent in its quest to seek and develop the talents of aspiring student writers.

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