Chapter 24. (Thorns of the Shadow: Blood, Blades, and Bacon)

The sun was showing no sign of rising yet, but KT’s phone told her it was early morning. Déaþscúa had gathered herself and Kai a few minutes ago after a handful of hours worth of sleep. Niall was already up, directing activity as the camp was deconstructed. 

“You all set?” Déaþscúa asked the Scotsman.

Niall ran his fingers along his weapon’s hilt. “We will move out at sunrise and journey down te a few miles from this village. We’ll make our final preparations there before attacking at dawn tomorrow. That gives ye just over a day te git yer wish from the fairies.”

“That should be enough time,” Déaþscúa said. He held out his hand and Niall clasped his wrist. “I’ll see you on the other side. Try not to die.”

“Ye donae need te tell me. You’re the reckless one. Telling ye te be careful would be a waste of me breath.” They both nodded then turned away from each other. 

“Good luck to you all!” Déaþscúa roared at the gathering as he walked away. He slowed as he passed Ailia and Elizabeth. “Look after yourselves. Try not to have too much fun,” he told them then strode away from the fire. KT and Kai had to jog to keep up with him.

Jearl met them at the edge of the camp. Déaþscúa didn’t slow. His face was set in a grimace though as he pushed his body through the pain. The SUV was parked a short distance away but Déaþscúa showed no signs of getting in. Jearl opened the boot, revealing a small pile of weapons. 

“That’s all the gear I could recover and a few replacements for y’all,” he told them in his usual cheerful manner. He personally handed over Déaþscúa’s sword. KT and Kai grabbed everything that they could practically carry while Déaþscúa waited patiently. 

“You know what to do, Jearl. We can’t have any mistakes,” Déaþscúa told the scruffy man.

“Course. There’ll be no issues at all, boss. Scout’s honour.”

Once they were ready, Déaþscúa walked away from the SUV, going deeper into the forest.

“We’re not driving?” Kai asked when they caught him up. “Are these fairies nearby then?”

Déaþscúa shook his head. “I couldn’t tell you where they are. For all I know, they could inhabit an entirely different realm of existence. The only way I know how to get to them is by using the faegates.”

“Are they really as horrible as everyone was making out? I mean, in the stories they’re little magical people with wings. Mischievous but kind.”

“Worse,” Déaþscúa answered grimly. “They’re foul creatures. Not evil but certainly not good or kind. They look down on all other forms of life. Nastiness and greed are their biggest traits. You could say that they suffer under a delusional god complex. Never underestimate them though.”

The air was bitterly cold as they made the short trek through the forest to the closest mushroom ring. The glimpses of sky between the branches were clear blue. Their breath misted and KT’s skin quickly became a flushed red. Each day felt colder than the last.

Déaþscúa moved between the trees with a confidence that even his limp and rattling breath couldn’t dampen. It still amazed KT how he could navigate his way through the masses of trees to find something as small as a circle of mushrooms. She had never known him to get lost or even hesitate on direction since she had met him. She asked him how he managed it.

“Depends,” he answered dismissively. Some places I’ve been through before. I’m a hunter so I can follow trails and have a keen eye for details. In this case, I’m following the faegate’s aura. They’re places of power so emit energy, just like living creatures. The closest is about thirty yards more that way, behind a large tree,” he finished, pointing off ahead. 

Sure enough, there was a ring of pale mushrooms just behind a wide tree where Déaþscúa had indicated. Knowing what to expect from their last journey through the magical portal, KT and Kai stepped inside of the ring while Déaþscúa moved around them. He touched the mushrooms in a seemingly random pattern. 

Déaþscúa stepped inside and tapped one final mushroom. KT braced herself for the wave of nausea that she had experienced the last time she’d used a faegate. It made no difference. If anything, the sudden sickness hit her harder than before. The tingling across her entire body felt more like a million hands pinching her and her vision was not just blurry but completely warped like a nightmare acid trip. 

The feelings stopped abruptly but it took KT several seconds to recover. She could hear Kai throwing up somewhere nearby. He’d always had a weak stomach. Breathlessly, she managed to look around. There was no snow and the air was pleasantly warm. Colourful flowers grew everywhere while grand trees surrounded them, lush leaves forming a roof above that allowed through the light of the sun.

“This is the fairy’s domain. Watch your step and don’t agree to anything without thought, and then only if you must.”

Before they could move away from the faegate, a gong sounded from seemingly everywhere all at once. Tiny shapes fluttered into sight from the trees, swirling around them and tittering in high, musical voices. The creatures were just like KT had always imagined fairies to look. They were small, angelic beings with glimmering, transparent wings, who wore beautiful dresses and decorative suits. All of them had feminine frames and androgynous faces.

One hovered just in front of her and she reached out, mesmerised by its beauty. When her finger neared it, its mouth suddenly opened wide like a snake as it beared several rows of thin fangs that looked to go down its throat. KT pulled her hand back fast as it snapped at her. The fairy hissed at her then returned to the others in their swarming mass of colours.

“I am Déaþscúa and I come seeking a deal,” Déaþscúa announced in a clear voice that filled the air.

We know you, reaper of souls.” The reply was haunting, the words coming from every fairy in perfect synchronization. “We know what deal you seek. We want to know more. Enter. Ghodot awaits.

Déaþscúa began to walk forward through the spinning wall of fairies. They parted around him like water. KT and Kai reluctantly did the same. No sooner had they passed beyond the fairies than the creatures reformed as a single long line that extended through the trees. Déaþscúa followed them.

Just ahead of them was a golden tree that stood slightly apart from the others. A tiny balcony was built into it just above head height. A circular door about the size of a human fist led from the balcony into the tree. They approached it until the fairies once again circled around them, blocking their path.

Kneel,” the thousand voices told them. They obeyed.

The only sound was the fluttering of the fairies’ wings like a plague of locust. Their pace seemed frantic, ever increasing toward a grand crescendo, but nothing visible was changing. Then, the fairies came to a sudden stop, hovering in place around them as a vast halo. Slowly they descended until their feet rested on the ground and their wings became still. All was now silent.

Deep blue smoke rose up from the grass until a strong wind blew it all high into the sky. Now, the balcony on the tree was occupied by another fairy who had appeared under the smoke’s cover. He stood slightly taller than the other fairies and carried himself with a grave nobility. His beauty made the others look plain except for dark, angry eyes, and a cross-shaped scar that ran across his mouth. The other fairies were now chanting the word “Ghodot”.

“So the son of Arkaei’ra has come to my realm for help on his ceaseless quest of death,” the fairy said in a thunderous voice at odds with his tiny stature. “And with him are two children with no concept of the true harshness of the world. You should not have brought them,”

“If you know why I’m here then you know why I need them,” Déaþscúa answered simply.

“Indeed,” Ghodot said in a slow, cold voice. “They are your soldiers, your current instruments of death. Poor choices, I fear.”

“Enough small talk,” Déaþscúa said, standing up to stare the fairy ruler in the eyes. “Will you create the faegate for me?”

Ghodot laughed. The sound was musical yet sinister. “We will do anything for a price. The question is not will we comply but will you pay?”

“What is your price?”

Ghodot’s lips split and curved into a smile that revealed the front row of razor-edged teeth. “For you? People say that you know more than every other living being. I simply want your memories. All of them. Copies of course. They will be delectable. I will gain weeks of amusement from them at the least.”

“Deal. You’re welcome to them so long as I don’t forget a thing.”

“Deal,” Ghodot all but purred. 

The fairy removed a small scroll from a pouch at his side and quickly scrawled across it with a quill. Once he was finished, he handed it up to Déaþscúa who took a moment to read through it before signing. Satisfied, Ghodot returned the scroll to its pouch. He rose slowly into the air to hover an inch from Déaþscúa’s face then held out both arms to place his hands over Déaþscúa’s eyes. Nothing outwardly happened other than both men visibly flinching, but after a few seconds, Ghodot moved back to the balcony with a dazed expression.

“The rumours did not exaggerate. This is wonderful yet oh so bitter. It will take me days to process all of this information. I will start at the beginning to see what makes a man such as yourself tick. Tell me, how do you live with yourself? So much guilt and grief. It is beautiful,” Ghodot whispered.

Déaþscúa’s voice was hard as steel. “Answers weren’t part of the deal. Open the gateway.”

“Not just yet,” the fairy said melodiously. “These two are wanting access as well, correct? Then they will need to make payments too. Also, you only made a deal for me to create a faegate. You never added in that you wanted to pass through it yourself.”

“You bastard!” Déaþscúa growled. He looked on the verge of lashing out at the tiny man.

“Now now,” Ghodot chuckled. “Calm yourself. Remember that you cannot leave this realm without my express permission. To strike out at me would mean never returning. What I want is simple. I want her body,” he said, nodding to KT.

“You what?” KT blurted out. “You damn midget pervert. I’ll grind your bones to dust then set the remains on fire if you even think of touching me.”

Ghodot held up his hands in a placating gesture. “Not like that, my dear. You see, we fairies are creatures of the ethereal. You are mostly water while we are mostly light. As such, we are not exactly physical. I want your body to be my own.”

“You’re crazy. I don’t know if you’ve noticed but I’m kinda using it. I don’t plan on giving it away,” KT told him testily. 

“That is my condition for anyone to pass through the faegate. Your options are to accept and carry out your plan or to go back home having failed.”

“This is bullshit,” Kai snapped. “Think about it, shrimp. Do you really think you could stop us from finding a way out? Déaþscúa knows everything and we wouldn’t be afraid to butcher you all until we succeed.”

Ghodot laughed dryly. “That would be a good bluff if Déaþscúa hadn’t just given me his memories. I can tell you for certain that he does not know of any way to escape. Look, you get to kill Black Annis and I get a nice new body. Everybody is happy.”

“Except for me!” blurted out KT angrily. “What the hell happens to me in this scenario?”

“You become a fragment of mind locked away in the back of your own head. At least until I can transfer your mind into a different body. I could give you any body you want. That would be part of the deal of course.”

“Forget it,” Déaþscúa said. He turned his back on Ghodot and began to walk away.

“Annis will win if you leave. That is fact,” Ghodot shouted after him.

Déaþscúa held both his middle fingers up and pointed them back at the fairy. “Take your deal and shove it up your arse-”

“Deal.”

Déaþscúa froze in place at the word. Kai looked dazed as though he had just been struck in the head. Ghodot smiled a smile of pure triumph.

“Don’t be stupid,” Déaþscúa finally managed to blurt out. He faced her with an intensity in his eyes that would have stunned her into silence when they had first met. “There’s no going back from that kind of deal. We’ll find another way, mark my words.”

She shook her head determinedly. “No. We don’t have time. You said so yourself. If you don’t stop her now she may never be stopped. Who knows how long it is until she plans to open this Heaven’s Gate thingy and kill all of us powerless.” Before Déaþscúa or Kai could argue she placed her attention on Ghodot. “I agree to your terms. Let’s do this.”

Déaþscúa ran back to get between KT and the fairy but hit an invisible wall. He hammered at it to no avail. Kai moved to grab his sister but was stopped too when the host of fairies circled around him like a tornado. Ghodot fluttered over to KT without hurry. The smugness on his face permeated from him like heat. He took another scroll from his pouch and handed it to KT once it was complete. She signed it without hesitation. After sliding the scroll home, he placed his hands on the centre of her forehead.

“This won’t hurt a bit. You have my word. It may be very uncomfortable though.”

“I’m ready.”

“Good.” 

Ghodot started to make a low whistling sound almost like wind through leaves. His body was faintly glowing with a pale white light. Slowly but steadily, his hands sank into KT’s head, followed soon by his arms then the rest of his body until he was gone.

KT stretched her limbs, a joyous look upon her face. She shivered violently then relaxed all of her muscles.

“This is wonderful,” she said. It still sounded like her voice but the inflection of the words was all wrong. “The things I could do with a young, supple body like this.” Her hand tugged at her clothes, stroked her hair and groped her breasts. “The things I will do with this body.”

The other fairies returned to their prior positions and the invisible force holding Déaþscúa back disappeared. Both he and Kai rushed forward but stopped before reaching KT.

“KT?” Kai said unsteadily. His sister’s face smiled up at him but those eyes were cold.

“She is gone,” Ghodot replied simply.

Kai’s lips twisted into a snarl. “You bastard. What do you want from me, eh? My eyes? My kidney? My awe-inspiring sense of humour or my stunning good looks? My damn soul?”

Ghodot stepped up to Kai then kicked him in the groin without warning. The young man made a strangled squealing sound and toppled over like a felled tree. The fairy looked appraisingly at the heavy boots on KT’s feet.

“Consider that payment,” he told Kai’s quivering body. “These are nice boots. This girl had good taste.”

“Indeed she does,” Déaþscúa said quietly. His voice grew louder. “She is also smarter than people give her credit for and is reckless beyond belief. Do you want to know the most important point in regards to her that you really should have knowledge of?”

Ghodot eyed him, suddenly suspicious. “And what would that be. She is a powerless girl whose mind and personality have no bearings on me now.” Despite this, a look of concentration suddenly appeared on KT’s face as the fairy began to search through Déaþscúa’s memories.

Déaþscúa flashed him a smile of his own. “You see, KT is more than likely an accipere resistant. I have no real idea how that would work with a fairy possession but I’m willing to bet she was confident that you wouldn’t be able to take over her. It did work against vampirism.”

“I already control her,” Ghodot snapped. “I feel brilliant. Undefeatable. She can do nothing. She IS nothing.” No sooner had the words left KT’s lips then she flinched. A frantic look crossed her face. Her eyes darted around wildly. 

“What’s the matter, King of Fairies?” Déaþscúa asked mockingly. “It looks like you’re suffering from a bad case of indigestion. Maybe you should learn not to bite off more than you can chew.”

“Impossible!” roared Ghodot. It came out as more of a screech in KT’s voice. “No! No, no, no!”

A hoarse scream tore from KT’s throat and then there was silence. Déaþscúa, Kai, and all of the fairies stared at the girl’s body with held breath. 

“That guy wants his brain washing out with soap.” The voice and inflection both belonged to KT. “That was a horrible experience. I-” her words cut off with a yelp. She clutched her head in both hands and fell to her knees screaming.

“KT!” Kai shouted as he ran to her side. 

“It’s too much!” she screamed. “My head! It can’t take it! Too many! So much pain…”

“Do something!” Kai pleaded to Déaþscúa. “What’s happening. Is Ghodot taking control again?”

Déaþscúa shook his head. “She has processed Ghodot. His thoughts and memories are hers now instead of the other way around. He had just taken all of my memories. Between the both of us, there is too much information flowing through her brain for a normal human to take. I can’t do anything. Once they’re stored away the pain will fade.”

The screams continued for a few seconds then came to an abrupt stop. KT took huge, gulping breaths of air to steady herself. Sweat covered her and her body shook. Her muscles gave out on her and she fell fully to the floor, panting. Déaþscúa stepped up to her and offered a hand to help her up. She looked up at him and her eyes widened. She moved away from his hand.

Memories coursed through her head like molten magma. Her own memories swam like tiny fish in a raging ocean of Ghodot’s memories, but both sets were dwarfed by those that could only belong to Déaþscúa. He was old. Older than KT could have ever imagined. She could remember both world wars as though she herself had fought in them. She could see bullets flying, shells exploding and bodies everywhere. There was so much death. She fled from those memories, delving deeper but she couldn’t escape the death. Battle after battle flooded her mind. The chain of memories continued back through time, through the Napoleonic wars, the Civil War and beyond. 

She watched helplessly as hundreds died at Déaþscúa’s hands. Most were in battle but innocents dotted the memories. More death surrounded those who stood at Déaþscúa’s side. Every single death evoked an overpowering pain within her. She watched friends and family scream and cry as they fell to blades or bullets. Images flashed from caressing smiling women to seeing them covered in blood. Laughing children flickered to broken corpses. Through every memory, blood stained Déaþscúa’s hands.

Déaþscúa sighed and moved away from her. “Most of the memories will be forgotten once they’ve settled.”

“How can you still smile after everything you’ve seen? After everything you’ve done?”

Déaþscúa smiled softly at her. “If you don’t laugh then you curl up and cry in a corner until there’s nothing left. The pain wells up and drains you of emotion until you’re hollow and crave pain just to know that you can still feel. That’s no way to live.” 

He’s a monster, said a voice inside KT’s head. The surprise of hearing it jolted her from the memories. It was Ghodot’s voice. Can you really put your faith in a man like him?

How are you talking to me, KT thought at the voice angrily. I was nothing but a mindless essence.

I am a powerful fairy. You may have trapped me in here but you could never snuff out my existence. I can feel what you feel. I see through your eyes and can read your thoughts like a book, the voice answered. As such, I wish to direct you to a particular memory.

Images flashed through KT’s mind once more but quickly came to rest on a small village made up of muddy paths and hovels. She watched through Déaþscúa’s eyes as he walked between the tiny homes. Men and women nodded their heads respectfully at him. His arms were strong but not nearly as muscled as they were now. He looked younger, less worn.

He came to the largest house and opened the door, stepping into a small room with a lit fire. The air smelled of stew. A young child played with hand-carved wooden animals while a woman stirred the pot of stew that cooked over the fire. Both looked up at Déaþscúa’s entrance and smiled lovingly at him. Now that the woman was facing Déaþscúa, KT could recognise her features. Her skin was not blue and her eyes were not cruel but the face was beyond a doubt that of Black Annis. Déaþscúa scooped up the child with a laugh and hugged Annis with his other hand, bending in to kiss her on the lips. 

Déaþscúa began to speak in a garbled language. KT didn’t know the words but was somehow able to understand them all the same, her new memories filling in her ignorance. 

“We won a great victory today, my wife. They are strong fighters but we are stronger. A few more victories like that and we will be able to drive them from our land.”

The memory slipped back into the recesses of her head. She realised that she was staring blankly at Déaþscúa. He had a sad look on his face and his eyes were locked onto hers.

“You were married to Annis.”

Déaþscúa nodded his head reluctantly. 

Kai’s fists whitened as they clenched. “You were what? You didn’t think that was something you should have told us?” he spat. 

The man turned his back on them. “That was a long time ago and Annis is no longer the woman I loved. Cliché I realise but that’s all there is to it.”

“Bullshit! Tell us what the hell is going on!”

Déaþscúa turned back to them but not because of Kai’s order. The fairies had begun to make a high-pitched whining noise that was growing louder and louder until it felt like a physical wave in the air. Each fairy drew back their lips and snarled, their narrow fangs bared. They started forward, enclosing around the humans from all directions. 

KT held up a single hand and the fairies stopped. “We paid your price and have done nothing that goes against our deals. Obey me and meet your obligations. Construct our faegate and allow us to pass through it in peace.” Her voice held a strange resonance. 

The fairies were still as they listened but the wailing had faded away. When KT had finished speaking they looked at her impassively. Then, as one, they flew to a nearby patch of dirt and began to busy themselves around it.

Interesting. They listen to you now. Having you in charge of this body could prove to be infinitely more amusing than I imagined.

Get out of my head, damn you.

I’m afraid that you are stuck with me from now on. You might not like it but I feel like I will love it.

Her mental argument was interrupted when Déaþscúa walked away from the fairies.

“Where the hell are you going? Oi! Answer me!” Kai shouted at his back.

The man didn’t turn. Instead, he slumped into a sitting position with his back to a tree. “Faegates take a full cycle of the sun and moon to be completed.”

Kai stood over him, his face still cast in anger. “Great. That’s plenty of time for you to explain to us what is really going on. Hell, I don’t even need to hear it from you. KT?”

KT tried to dredge up memories relating to Annis but there were so many that trying to navigate through the images and emotions was near impossible. Just trying was reviving that stinging migraine. She shook her head.

“Fine,” Déaþscúa relented. “It’s no big secret. Everyone knows, I just don’t like talking about it. Sit down. It’s a long story.”

KT and Kai sat against trees facing Déaþscúa. The man seemed reluctant to start so KT prompted him.

“You told us you were an Addonexus but you’re clearly older than that would allow.” She tried to fill the information in herself but could summon only pain from her mind. Having so much knowledge yet being unable to access it was frustrating. 

“I was born in the year 607 AD in a small English village. My mother, a witch, gave birth to me while Halley’s Comet flew through the sky above. It was after the Romans had left the island. This had left a power vacuum. Kingdoms were formed while barbarians and bandits wandered the land. It was a dangerous time to live through.”

“It quickly became apparent that I was not normal but it wasn’t until my village was razed to the ground by an invading army and I was run through by a spear that I realised my true abilities. I was taken in by another village where I worked for the chief doing odd jobs. He had a witch daughter who I grew to be close with. She was called Annis and was the greatest healer in a hundred mile radius.”

“The chief was killed in a barbarian attack but I rallied the men and fought them off despite suffering wounds that would have killed normal men. I was given leadership of the village and married Annis. We had a child and I worked hard to make the village a safe, secure place for him to be raised.”

Déaþscúa slowed, his eyes staring into nothingness. “I had won several battles against different armies and thought that I could consolidate my power and create a kingdom of my own. I led my men to battle against two forces that had allied with each other but a third had joined that covenant and attacked the village while we were gone. We won but when we returned home we were greeted by nothing but flames and corpses.

“There was an old man who’d managed to hide who told us what had happened. It was a tale of bloodletting and rape. Even the children and babies didn’t escape it. Once the warriors’ lust had been fulfilled, every soul had been put to the sword. The old man had run at the first opportunity.”

As Déaþscúa spoke, the words flowed through KT and she could see the burning village and the distraught old man. She could feel sorrow and hate coursing through her. Kai looked on, his features unmoving.

“I couldn’t find the bodies of my son or Annis. The old man told me he had watched as she was raped and her throat slit and then raped again. He pointed me to the very spot but nothing was there but blood. Several bodies were missing though. Some were burned to an unrecognizable black husk while others were hacked to pieces. I had hoped with all my heart that they still lived and that the men had taken them captive. With pure rage filling our hearts we hunted down the murderers to seek our revenge.”

“We found their camp a few days later but everyone within was already dead. There were no other bodies to indicate a battle but the horrendous blade wounds could not have been caused in a stealth attack. For months we had no idea what had happened there.”

“After a while, we began to hear rumours of similar massacres all across the land so I decided to try and track down the killer. It took a long time but when I did catch up I was confronted by none other than Annis. She told me that she had fought the warriors at the village with one of my swords but it had been shattered. After the attack she had lain there, choking on her own blood with the shards of metal all around her. She had burned herself out to keep herself alive, merging her hands with the sword fragments in the process. She then hunted the men down, killing them and stealing their life energy to fuel herself since she no longer had any power of her own.

“I tried to convince her that she had done what she’d set out to achieve and that we could both return and try to rebuild our lives but she wouldn’t listen. She’d become convinced that evil must be removed from the world and that she would be the one to do it. I agreed and joined her until she grew more and more radical. When she finally started killing children under the belief that seeds from corrupted trees grow into corrupted trees themselves, I couldn’t follow her any longer. I tried to stop her but she had grown stronger than me because of all of the life she had drained from her victims. From that day we have played this game of cat and mouse. She disappeared for a long time and I thought she was dead until she resurfaced a few decades ago. Are you happy now?”

KT and Kai said nothing. KT was lost to the memory. She could feel Déaþscúa’s heart breaking as his sword clashed with Annis’ metallic talons. Kai looked troubled, the anger gone from his face.

Déaþscúa addressed them both. “None of that will stop me from doing what needs to be done. I’ve had a long time to come to terms with it.” He looked to KT. “How are you doing?”

“Fine,” she answered. “A few stray murmurs but that’s all.”

“Good,” he said with thinly veiled relief. “Kai, go help the fairies at the faegate. They’ll need to know where to open the other end. KT, get some rest. The last thing you want is memories to overpower you during the confrontation with Annis. Seeing her will likely trigger my strongest memories of her.”

Both teens left him sitting there alone. He closed his eyes and let remembrance wash over him, memories that he had long since locked away in the depths of his past burst out to fill his mind.

“I’ll give you peace, and maybe someday find peace myself. All the pain has to end someday, right? Tomorrow, one of us will die.”

Previous – Chapter 23.

Next – Chapter 25.

2 thoughts on “Chapter 24. (Thorns of the Shadow: Blood, Blades, and Bacon)

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