(Author’s note: This was written as a response to a challenge by another writer friend, who gave me the elements of exercise, a church mass, and the phrase “the two that are wounded” to make a story out of. I did, then sent it to a fantasy/horror publication named Midnight Zoo. They published it, and I had a new setting to play with. I’ve been playing with it ever since, refining a novel and occasionally writing a short story – such “The Dream Hacker”, which was recently published in Cheapjack Pulp. I even tried a comic series some years back, but the company folded before it came to fruition. Here is the first story, the first flirting with total chaos magic. Enjoy!)
She can still see the glowing street, the path to their temple, through the heavy black rain. The dark wet veil obscures the buildings and street lamps of Psykopolis. The scar under her blouse is on fire, but it doesn’t stop her. The glowing trail entrances her, leads her to the holders of the knife. Somehow she will take it from them. The pain will end. And they will pay.
The pain surges, slices through her torso. She drops to her knees. They must be doing Exercises. She must push past the pain. She tries to Focus, to diminish it. The rain increases in response to her pain, trying to wash it away, obscuring the shimmering trail. Her fingers scrape down old crumbling bricks, dust falling with her to the black asphalt pool beneath, where she glimpses the face she saw earlier, when the trail appeared, the face of a young boy….
Dallion runs down the hall, looking at each door in turn, but uncertain which to open. He wants to scream, but that will alert the priests. He must escape. He must protect himself.
Cardinal Hazeltan will be looking for him now. Time is running out. Tears flood Dallion’s eyes again. He wants to stop, to let the priests find him. He wants to die.
How could he do this to me? Dallion thinks. Why couldn’t I ‘ve been a scarecrow? He remembers when Cardinal Hazeltan found him behind a dance club downtown named called The Biopathy Bureau, picking through the garbage cans for food scraps. His mother had completely succumbed to the willies after Dad left, and it was only a matter of time before she vanished too, screaming into the night, trying to hide from subliminal monsters reaching for her from the psychetecture of the surrounding buildings. Hazeltan’s voice was gentle, as was his smile. “Kavea protect you, my son,” he said to Dallion. “Come along. One meal for a few minutes of your time, my son.” He has been so good to me, Dallion thinks, pausing in front of the locked library door, the knot in his throat twisting tighter. All the Exercises. He was just using me. Who are ‘the two that are wounded’?
The despair passes. Where can he hide? Where won’t they look? They’ve probably checked his room, then the Chapel…. The Chapel! He can hide there for a while. Maybe he will figure a way to sneak past the sentinels. Cardinal Hazeltan’s voice booms down the hall.
Oh sweet Kavea, Dallion thinks, watching the shadow of his mentor stretch out before him from around the corner.
She sees him cowering in the hall, a young man with dark hair and the white robes of a Kavean neophyte. His aura is bright gold and powerful. Hazeltan, the bastard, steps around the corner. “There you are, Dallion,” he says, and the boy’s aura turns blue with fear. “Praise Kavea. Brother Sylvester and I decided you should try again, only not in the Chapel. In the Holy of Holies. Come.”
She wrenches herself to consciousness, pushes her body up off the street, cursing herself. She used to be the most powerful water witch in Fugue Fields, one of many people whose intense psychic abilities were triggered by the psychetecture of the neighborhood, a deliberate experiment of Psykopolis’ chief builder and architect. She networked her power with other Adepts three or four years ago (she can no longer remember through the haze of pain) and brought rain during the drought. Now a rain shower follows her, a subconscious uncontrolled response to her pain, always falling, never washing the pain away. She used to be a healer. People depended on her to care for their children and parents. Now she can’t even heal herself.
The road before her is bright blue and electric with fright. She drinks from it greedily, building a little strength but not enough. It tastes bitter with fear. That boy. He’s the key. But they’re taking him to the Holy of Holies. Hazeltan must know something, but not enough to outright kill the boy. The boy must’ve been the crux of the Exercises before.
They’re going to do a Cleansing. They will use the knife. She won’t be able to withstand the pain.
Neither will the boy.
She staggers forward, running down the wavering blue path, trying to Focus past the pain on the boy. He must know what to do in the Holy of Holies, before Hazeltan maims him.
Kavea, with her eight razor-fingered arms and four cow-eyed bald head, stands in the center of the dimly lit room. Brother Sylvester twists the dimmer control knob. Dallion winces at the sudden brightness, then widens his eyes at the hooked and bladed instruments covering the wall. A trough of water surrounds the statue of the goddess. Hazeltan’s face beams at the sight of it, shaped to his exact specifications. Two priests bring in the Well of Pain, a cauldron of weapons stained with the blood of the Church’s enemies. Another brings in the coals.
“Well, Dallion. Are you ready for the Cleansing? I assure you this is the only way, my son.”
Dallion looks at the kindly old face, then at the statue. Hazeltan was so friendly during their first talk. They walked through the Temple after Dallion was fed, an old office building with several conference rooms. “I was once lost like you,” Hazeltan said. “I wandered the streets so filled with pain I could not see my fellow men and women. Then She came in a vision.” They entered the Chapel and Dallion saw the statue, a slightly paler replica of the one he looks at now. “She asked me to worship Her, to love Her,” Hazeltan continued. “She embraced me and sliced off my skin and released the pain in my soul. I was renewed. She accepted me, as She accepts all lost wounded souls. With Kavea, you are never alone.” Dallion took a bite from the apple in his hand, thought about the many weeks he had spent alone in the streets of Psykopolis, his only companions the hypnogogic demons at the edges of his vision, demons he no longer feared because they never did or say anything. “Will you stay and allow me to teach you to commune with Kavea?” Hazeltan asked and he said yes. He joined the other neophytes and started Exercises. It felt great. He was not alone. He was loved. He was accepted. It was all a lie.
Dallion glances at the Well of Pain. One blade takes his attention, a large curved knife. The two priests lift the Well to set it on the hot coals. Without reason, Dallion shouts, “Wait!”
A hint of impatience flickers across Hazeltan’s face. “What is it, my son?”
Stall, a voice in his head whispers. But he doesn’t know how. “It’s OK to be afraid, my son,” Hazeltan continues, oozing with false concern, “but I promise it’s for the best. You’ll see, my son.” He smiles.
Anger swells in Dallion’s chest, spills out his mouth. “No, I’m not your ‘son’. I’m a ‘little bastard’, remember? When you were talking to Brother Sylvester? When you decided to torture me?!”
That’s it, kid. Keep them off balance, she thinks as she gazes across the street at the factory building. A couple of guards try to look like they are just hanging out in front, but she recognizes them. They witnessed her wounding. They taunted her while she was sliced. Thunder cracks, sounding her anger. It will be a pleasure to kill them.
She should have taken this puny little cult of low-level pain freak psychics seriously when they first appeared in Fugue Fields. Cults come and go overnight in Psykopolis, but this one has lasted longer than most. Something about Hazeltan’s sick vision of salvation appealed to certain sadistic types. Then these crazies tried to recruit Adepts into their diseased power games. They have just enough knowledge and ability to be able to camouflage their thoughts and their cumulative power protects them from any defense the Adepts could raise against them. She, like most Adepts, wouldn’t join. Hazeltan cut her, stomach to breastbone, then used the weapon, the knife, to torture her, to sap her power and, most importantly, her Focus. Her blood on the knife is the Children of Kavea’s link to her wound, as many other weapons are linked to other Adepts she knew, debilitating them with unbearable pain. When the Kaveans do Cleansings, she can feel her wound ablaze with the heat of the coals and the pain of the poor soul being tortured with the knife. Tears fill her eyes. There have been so many victims….
She has been looking for their hidden temple for a long time. The people who knew where it was wouldn’t tell her, afraid the Kaveans would maim them too. She had almost given up when the trail appeared. She has been following it for weeks, the trail vanishing when Exercises ceased. Then she would wait where she was, in the eternal downpour, until they started up again. The closer she got, the clearer she could see the face in her mind, the face of Dallion.
She dare not attack the guards now. She has to wait. She needs better Focus. It is now up to the boy to make the next step.
“What are you talking about, boy?”
“I heard you talking in your quarters. I’m not a scarecrow. I can prophesy. I trance during Exercises and talk about the downfall of the Church by the – ‘the two that are wounded’.”
Hazeltan’s face is no longer kindly. “How do you know that, child? Have you been holding out on me?”
“I heard you tell Brother Sylvester. You said I had a – a psychic block that prevented me from remembering what I say or do during Exercises. You used that to get more information from me. But it didn’t work. I keep repeating the same thing. ‘The children of Kavea will be buried in black sheets of rain by the two that are wounded’.”
“We will never be buried,” grumbles Sylvester.
“You’re going to torture me till I’m almost dead,” Dallion continues. “That will break through the block. Then I’ll tell you more before I die.”
“You may not die, child,” Hazeltan says, smiling. “You might become one of our maimed outcasts.”
“What good will knowing this do you, boy?” Sylvester asks, taking a length of razor wire from the wall.
Dallion leaps toward the Well, tips it. The blades, pipes, and hooks spill on the floor. He grabs the curved knife, rolls away before the priest can pour the coals on him. He throws the blade into the trough of water. Pain rips his back. Dallion turns as Sylvester whips him across the arm with the razor wire.
The knife is now clean. The rain has stopped.
She has Focus. Control.
The trail is now bright red. She takes a deep draft of Dallion’s pain. She gasps. Damnit, they’re tearing him apart! She manipulates the power trail into two streams, one leading to the boy.
The guards recognize her as she walks toward them in the rain. Their lungs fill with phlegm and they drown.
The others die more quickly, in spurting pools of blood.
A roar fills the building. The floor shakes, cracks open under the statue of Kavea. The goddess bursts into pieces. In its place floats a woman with long dark hair. An angel, Dallion thinks, sprawled on the ground covered with cuts.
“It’s been a long time, you bastard!” she says and waves her hand up to the ceiling. Thunder roars.
Then Dallion sees the water leap from the trough, hitting Hazeltan like a crystal column. He is pounded back to the wall, his scream cut off with a gag. When the water clears, Dallion sees the curved blade sticking out of Hazeltan’s chest, pinning him to the wall.
Sylvester rushes her. Her finger jabs toward him. The wire wraps around his face. He screams as the blood geysers from the gashes. The priests crumple, clutching their chests, bleeding from every orifice
Dallion feels himself floating, floating into a starless night, a warm humid night, surrounded by thunder and black sheets of rain….
Dallion opens his eyes. The woman with the long dark hair caresses his forehead. “You will be fine,” she says. “My name is Thera. I want to thank you.”
He sits up. They are in the middle of a muddy lot. It seems familiar…. “For what?” he finally asks.
“You led me here. And your power helped me to defeat them.”
“I tapped into you. I also channeled your powers to help me heal you. You have tremendous energy. With the proper training, you could be a Master Adept. If you wish to learn.”
Dallion looks around again. By Kav- I mean…this is where the Temple used to be!
Thera smiles. “This must all be very confusing to you. Give yourself time to think about it.” She hands him a piece of paper. “Here’s the address of some friends of mine. Tell them I sent you. They’ll look after you until you’re ready to leave.” She stands. “I must go now. I have much to catch up on.” She walks away.
Dallion calls after her, “Wait! Where do I go to learn?”
Thera turns, says, “People tell me I’m a good teacher.”
He gets up and walks with her toward Fugue Fields, the spires of Psykopolis’ towers shining in the sun like a celebration.
Copyright © 1992 by Don Traverso – All rights reserved. Originally published in Midnight Zoo v2, #2, 1994.