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April 15, 2024

Good Morning? 71

By Lydia Manx

In the distance, I heard a horrific scream and what sounded like Gordon yelling and shouting. That Riley was with Gordon meant one of them must be tangling with the unknown prey. I wasn't sure how Kirk sounded when he was screaming, so I didn't know which of them was fighting and which one was possibly bleeding. There was the definite possibility that they had stopped being the predators and were all rapidly becoming the prey for the unknown nasties in the mine.

The beat of my heart reminded me that I really needed more reinforcements, because Stefan wasn't simply a werewolf, or an odd creature that I chanced upon in a bad neighborhood, but someone who'd been sucking down the dark side from the salt pit prisoners for decades. I wasn't sure how much control he'd have once the red-eyed creature took over him again -- something I wasn't wishing for, but still was aware could happen. And now I didn't have his magic-filled evil staff to defend myself (and even at that I wasn't sure that it would fire against him again if the actual Gatekeeper was holding the rod.) Also, I didn't know if Stefan could prevent the creature from drawing from all the others that the somewhat-cursed Gatekeeper had absorbed over the decades -- not that anyone had said Stefan was cursed, but from what I'd seen and heard it seemed pretty much a done deal. All in all, a very scary scenario, so with that in mind I whispered out mentally, Parrot, can you hear me?

Since I'd freed Parrot from the cell that it had been imprisoned in, over by where Sapphire had her cell-slash-cave-slash-dragon's lair, the creature had stayed down in the salt mines instead of fleeing. And it had already helped me once. So I figured that I had nothing to lose from more help on my side. I wasn't so sure that in the long run, Parrot was there to help or hinder, but so far all Parrot had done was help me -- so I was going to go with that. I mean it wasn't like I had anything more to be taken from me. The werewolves were off chasing their tails for all I knew, while I was stuck next to the Gatekeeper. If Stefan went postal, so to speak, I was beyond screwed. Distractedly my mind wandered, and I wasn't even sure that the postal service was even around when old Stefan was above the dirt, helping werewolves in the Great Lakes region. I mean I know they had messenger services way back when, but I was getting the sinking feeling that Stefan was damn old and no longer with the real world in many ways when he'd been tapped to watch over the mine and its scary occupants. I knew that the salt companies did business well into the nineteenth century, but I felt like the werewolves had been keeping Stefan out in the pasture before they put him in charge of the supernatural freak show. He had that old soul feeling, but not in a warm fuzzy way, but more like furry furious way. It wasn't just the glowing red eyes, but the way he was watching me out of the corner of his eye when he didn't think I was looking.

The tenuous mental whisper out to Parrot was pulsed back with a linking feeling inside my brain. Then the stories that popped into my thoughts and began to overwhelm me quickly let me know that they were definitely from Parrot's mind, and very informative while letting me know it was Parrot whispering images to my mind, not some other psycho prisoner. Parrot was far worse than I'd ever imagined, but at least it seemed to be on my side -- for now.

Yes, Esmeralda, do you have another problem? Parrot whispered back with even darker thoughts tracing through my mind. I was happy that Parrot liked me, because it turned out that the incarceration in the salt mines by the powers that be was in fact for a fairly good reason. Parrot had been in South America and quite decidedly turned on the villagers that used to worship the creature for decades that had flowed into centuries. Times change, and the bounties and offerings of adulation fell off. Parrot decided to take what wasn't being freely offered. Once Parrot was done there wasn't anything, and I mean anything, alive for a solid five miles in what was once a densely populated area. None of the deaths were quick and not a single soul remained. Parrot drank the souls like a fine wine in a crystal goblet.

Despite being armed with that insight into Parrot, I said without hesitation, Yes. If you have the time, come help me. The Gatekeeper has been tainted.

I'll be there shortly. May I offer my assistance in killing those who are causing your werewolves to be lost first? There was a slight hiss to the word lost that was unnerving, given Parrot's rather deeply blood-spattered history, but it wasn't my concern in the least. Instead I latched onto the image of 'my' werewolves being lost beneath a thousand feet of earth forever wandering in the salt mines. Not a happy thought at all -- rather terrifying, considering the history of some of the previously imprisoned creatures.

Thinking carefully, I bit my lip and softly said back into Parrot's thoughts, Yes, please.

Life was going to get interesting, I could tell. There was an audible snap as Parrot disconnected from my mind that was odd. The bloodthirsty creature was definitely something otherly in the already weird landscape of my world -- which was saying something.

All my brief mind conversations with Riley, Sapphire and Parrot weren't aloud, but still Stefan was getting suspicious of my lengthening silence. So it wasn't like I had been talking much to begin with, but without the others to cover my total silence, it was growing more and more noticeable. Funny how having no buffers ended up pointing out my communication defects. Smiling over at the Gatekeeper I perked up with, "So like, what exactly does the face and the inscription of 'Good Morning' on the wall mean?"

His eyes flickered back and forth to red -- so very not good. I tried to swallow the rapidly-growing lump catching inside my throat without being noticed. The creature that had etched the wall words in Nico's cell was flowing through Stefan again; his eyes were definitely not normal. But my fake cheery question actually seemed to disarm him. I batted my lashes a little -- but admittedly on purpose, hoping to disarm the werewolf. I guessed Stefan had been caged in with the other inmates long before casual flirting was common, and I smiled sweetly and lowered my sword to try to appear as innocent as I could while waiting for some reinforcements.

The screaming in the distance had taken a turn from earlier; from the stuff that had sounded to me like the werewolves were being tormented and tortured, it had changed to something decidedly freakier and not like the previous shrieks. That gave me hope while I saw Stefan struggling with answering me and pushing his darker side down. I wasn't deluded enough to think Stefan was one of the 'good guys' despite Gordon vouching for the werewolf. As a shriek tumbled through the tunnels, I saw Stefan was startled. I didn't think he ever considered that the werewolves would be able to survive whatever he'd trapped in the mines with them earlier.

A point for the actual good guys in my book.

Curiosity crossed Stefan's face. Both sides of the Gatekeeper wanted to know what was going on outside in the tunnels, but Stefan held firm and looked at me saying, "Why do you want to know about the carvings in Domenico Rosso's, or as you call him, Nico's cell?"

We both had touched the carvings and I had felt an odd tingle and feeling that I hadn't fully explored, while Stefan had been flooded with another. It was the possessive red-eyed other that concerned me more than the haunted Gatekeeper. That showed me just how wrong this was going. Keeping with the flirty chick persona, I giggled and said, "Well, like who wouldn't want to know?"

Confusion ran over the now red-eyed creature's face as he tried to translate my modern day vernacular. Another point to me, because it was annoying to speak like that, but it really screwed up men when they tried to figure out what exactly I'd said. I kept my features calm and batted my eyelashes some more. I didn't know if that helped, grubby as I was from hiking around in the mine. I so needed a hot shower -- preferably somewhere on the other side of the continent.

"Why yes, of course," I could still see traces of Stefan behind the softly glowing red eyes, but I knew better than trusting the Gatekeeper to control himself. He seemed to be searching for his words. When they came out I wasn't surprised to hear the tones of the creature who'd proclaimed 'MINE' when Stefan's staff blasted him back.

"It's a sign from centuries ago that shows up in random places?" He said as if asking me to confirm it.

"Well, why the smiley face? Wasn't that like some commercial advertisement from the sixties or something?" I knew I'd seen it in odd places and definitely looking older than the twentieth century, but still I wanted to see what the Gatekeeper was going to say.

Shrugging he answered, "Certainly it was used back then, but this is much older."

"Okay, so why the English words 'Good Morning'? That's not like, normal," I pushed.

A growl and Stefan's eyes went full blown creepy red and said, "Silence, Child. You are just playing with me. Why are you here?"

Just then there was a howl and scream, and seven creatures flew into the room. There was a jumble of fur and shapes that took me a full minute to identify. Riley, bleeding from the shoulder, furred out (which was truly amazing) tumbled and fell at my feet, looking up, saying, "Looking good, Emma." Then he was bolting up to his feet roaring, "Come on, asshole!"

The said asshole was a grotesque creature with multiple eyes and scales, but it wasn't reptilian, just creepy unearthly. The skin was orange and the eyes worked independently of each other. The half dozen eyes were icky, but the seven limbs pretty much defied any explanation I could think of right away. Then there was a hiss, and it threw up purple gook from its wide mouth. The mouth had at least three or four rows of sharp nasty teeth. On its back, unseen by anyone but me, was Parrot.

Parrot was aptly named -- the sharp beak now visible to me was currently drilling into the back of the orange creature's neck area. Riley was still waving his claws and growling, but Parrot was seriously digging through the purple scales that crowned the neck on the orange skin, and was slurping down whatever kept the creature moving. With a loud squeal, the orange creature crumbled and fell to the ground dead, the dinner plate sized scales flattened and as lifeless as the creature. Riley laughed and said, "Coward, you die rather than face me! Ha!"

I had glimpsed the soul of the creature hiss up through its scales into Parrot's beak. That was twisted, and from the crowd's lack of reaction, it seemed that nobody else saw Parrot. Sapphire's arrival then added to the quickly growing carnival atmosphere. The dragon was impressive, and over-filled the space available. Gordon and Kirk looked okay at first glance; then I saw that they both were breathing rather rapidly, and their eyes weren't precisely human. Whatever they'd hunted had gotten in some damage to the werewolves that I could only wonder about, since I didn't see any of them bleeding. Stefan tried to look happy about their arrival and failed.

Article © Lydia Manx. All rights reserved.
Published on 2014-02-03
Image(s) © Lydia Manx. All rights reserved.
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