Mordecai

[This is taking from an old novel draft (one I haven’t touched in about 8 years) for a post-apocalyptic series, titled Whimper. This is from the point of view of one of the novel’s antagonists, the Grand Templar Mordecai. He is a high ranking member of the Holy Dominion, a theocracy which governs the wasteland that was once middle America.]

 

 

Monks infested the antechamber. Blind, deaf, and mute – their faces ritually erased. They swayed and trembled with ecstatic fervor, unaware of Mordecai’s passing. Joshua, his youngest son, once asked: “Where does their food go?” He was unable to provide an answer, despite his high rank within the church. An innocent inquiry, it was nonetheless a heresy to question the nature of the faceless. To spare the rod, Mordecai knew, was to spoil the child. Curiosity, like good intentions, paved the road to hell, and it was crucial to curtail its development at an early age. Corporal punishment taught Joshua to substitute free-thought for simplistic and easy to repeat aphorisms – not unlike his father.

 

The faceless served with mindless devotion, tending to the diverse and often singular desires of His Holiness. They approached tasks with unrivaled zeal, compensating for their lack of intelligence through avidity. A heathen ambassador from the Atlantic Trade Consortium once referred to the monks as “lobotomites”, a term Mordecai was unfamiliar with.

 

He entered the Eternal Sanctum, closing the door behind him. The interior was composed of black stone, polished and seamless. Decorating the walls of the spherical chamber were golden vines and jeweled flowers. Windows of stained-glass, four in number, depicted biblical legends.

 

The Forge of Eden: The place of man’s creation. Adam and Eve. Hammer and anvil, sword and sheath. Tools of immutable design and purpose, the story represented the cornerstone of Dominion ideology. Coiled around the base of the anvil was a familiar serpent, the same burned in effigy during the high holidays.

 

The Binding: The composition required significant use of red tinted glass. A lesson in obedience and sacrifice. The Word of God transcended that of man, their laws and ethics. Isaac was a good son. He loved his father and looked upon him with adoration. He loved him even as he felt the blade inside. Tender thoughts and tender flesh. Loved him even as it plunged again, and again, eviscerating him upon the altar.

 

The Flood: A reminder of the fleeting and inessential nature of humans. To be broken and discarded at a whim of its creator. It reminded him of a thought, a forbidden thought born during the naivety of youth when confronted with contradictions. The question died before asked, existing only as a momentary sense of cognitive dissonance.

 

The Fall of the Blasphemous Tower: Obsidian shards arranged in the image of a colossal spire. The highest tier formed a hand, its fingers wrapped around a crimson orb. Man sought to conquer the heavens. To see what lurked beyond even the stars. The Red World became a symbol for their godless hubris, a false idol of logic and reason. God toppled the tower and blackened the sky. He cloaked the stars in darkness, forever hidden from man’s covetous gaze. This world alone was their gifted domain, never again would they desire another.

 

A black tendril caressed his face, the sweet touch of an angel.

 

“You may approach.” spoke a voice, dissonant and disembodied. “Bask in the glory of my presence.”

Midas Touched

[An old draft page, one possible story for a setting I could never really settle with]

 

The Hölle District was constructed in the name of progress, the apotheosis of civilization, and was, by necessity, a place of fire, steel, and transmutation. When hell poured into Berlin, none could have imagined a positive outcome among its flames and darkened keepers.

 

Here, along one of its red-brick sidewalks, a faun advanced with singular purpose. A young woman, no longer a child but hardly yet an adult, shadowed her cloven hoofed master by a few steps behind. A handkerchief over her nose and mouth was of little defense against the sulfurous odor of tortured elements.

 

“Katja,” The faun maintained a steady saunter as he spoke. “What do you know of Hölle?”

 

“That it’s hot and smells of rotten eggs.” she replied, her dreadful tone betraying misery. How anyone could live here was to her a mystery.

 

He sighed, rolling his horizontal pupils. “A comfortable environment has resulted in an entire species of whiners. Truly, you are the epitome of your race.”

 

Clearing his throat, the faun returned to his original point. “Kobolds were the first non-humans to be encountered by the German people – and they arrived with a bang. The ground ruptured, breathed fire, and grew to resemble the hell of human myth and superstition. Devils, your people thought, and your doomsayers for once seemed validated. Humanity struck first, though I am able to understand how they would have seen things differently, and thus ensued a dreadful bloodba-”

 

“The Massacre at Mitte. Falkenrath taught me about it.” she interrupted.

 

“Good! You’ve actually learned something, if not manners. May I please continue?”

 

“Of course, Mr. Pox. I apologize.”

 

“Right then. As I was saying…” he paused, narrowing his gaze at a gathering of kith. “Eh. I’ll save that tale for another time. I do believe we’ve arrived at the scene of the crime.”

 

Golems and pickelhelmed constables barred access to the alleyway. Faces grim, they moved aside to allow the pair to pass without speaking a word. The officers barked orders at the crowd, their demands for dispersal inadvertently luring more to the scene. Katja saw their gawking eyes peeping through the gaps between black uniforms and man-shaped metal.

 

It was early, her tired eyes red from lack of sleep and the brimstone fumes of industrial transmuters. She suddenly stopped in her tracks, an audible gasp escaping her lips.

 

“You’ll get used to this,” said Pox, donning a pair of rubber gloves. “Eventually.”

 

Katja was paralyzed. Her stomach churned and she covered her mouth against a rise of vomit. Loose skin and viscera cloaked the victim but a radiant light reflected from various fissures. Retrieving surgical scissors from his side satchel, Pox proceeded to snip through strings of sinew. The remaining epidermis unraveled with a sickening schlop, revealing a maiden of gold, preserved mid-contortion.

 

Averting her gaze, Katja leaned up against a soot-stained wall. Pox had already begun to speak while she scrambled to find a notebook and pencil.

 

“Decedent resembles a human female. Dark hair; fair skin; facial features unrecognizable. Clothing has merged with what little flesh is left. I am able to discern the remnants of a corset among the mess. Possibly a skirt as well. Nothing else. Soles of the feet are well preserved; heavily calloused and blackened by grime. I also detect the heavy aroma of cheap perfume – something obnoxiously French. Victim was likely a prostitute and one that was fairly active in this district. Will likely find many who were familiar with her, if there was only some way to identi- ”

 

Pox stilled his tongue, shifting all attention to the soft remains which he lifted from the ground and unfurled, letting the flayed hide flutter like a banner in the wind. Katja turned to the wall and vomited.

 

“Toughen up, girl. Take a closer look.” said Pox, responding to the noise of slurry on stone.

 

Katja wiped breakfast from her lips. After a moment of mental preparation, she turned to face his ghastly display. It was a grotesque effigy of the woman that once was, distorted by lack of shape and substance. Pox pulled the skin, rendering it taut and its details more perceivable. There were deep cuts and lesions; they had not healed well but they had at least healed.

 

“Scars?” She hoped her answer was enough to satisfy that persnickety old goat.

 

“Explicate. Remember what I told you before.”

 

“Scars…” She paused, mindful of his expectations. “Scars tell a story. They represent the history of an individual and their relationship to others, as well as their environment.”

 

“Close enough but what do you see? Read the scars. Be precise.”

 

“The scars aren’t too distinctive. Lots of cuts – probably from a knife. This woman likely lived a traumatic life. And what’s that? Above her left breast. It doesn’t look like the others.”

 

Pox turned over the husk and studied the mark. His yellow eyes narrowed and then abruptly expanded. “A brand.”

 

“Someone branded her?”

 

“Quite crudely. It appears to be the letter M.”

 

“But why?” A question almost childlike in its innocent naivety; it felt out of place among the blood and flesh and that auric enigma.

 

“Because they could. It is not unheard of for a pimp to mark their so-called ‘property’.”

 

Katja shifted her gaze to the golden statue. “Okay. So – cause of death?”

 

“Death by chrysopoeia. Human transmutation. I’ve only ever heard of them happening in industrial accidents. A worker falling into a live transmutator – that sort of thing.”

 

“Putting the ‘how’ aside for a moment – but why wasn’t the rest of her converted?”

 

“An astute observation! That, however, is outside my area of expertise. We’ll have the body delivered to Shimndglurm. That old kobold will know what to make of it.”

The Death and Resurrection of Mr. Sean McDonnell Part I

 

Daniel navigated his vehicle along a narrow and neglected road. An autocarriage was still a rarity in the area, causing star-eyed onlookers to occasionally block his path. Though time was of the essence, such delays allowed him a chance to study the neighborhood – a favorite pastime. Neoclassical and Gothic revival were the prevailing architectural styles at present and the general zeitgeist of the time called for everything else to be demolished and replaced. Impoverished communities were unable to afford to be a part of this movement for ‘urban renewal’ and their aged structures remained untouched, though hardly pristine.

He appreciated the slum as one did the ruins of a long dead civilization; a curiosity with no bearing on the present, not so different from a human zoo.

He slowed his autocarriage to a stop and locked the brake in front of a dilapidated townhouse. He pulled a crumbled note from his vest pocket and gave it a final glance before tearing it apart and casting its fragments to the wind. The air filled his nostrils with the unmistakable stench of raw sewage, rotten fish, and alchemical runoff.

Pollution, disease, and human misery – it all flowed down here.

A steady stream of visitors came and went from the building as they pleased. He must have been a popular fellow, unless I’ve merely stumbled on the best damned whorehouse in this slum. Daniel let slip a small smile before returning to the morose countenance expected of his profession.

The door was closing fast but Daniel quickly obstructed the entrance with his cane. Despite the previous flow of characters, the door refused to budge anymore than his interference allowed. Through a crack he glimpsed the glaring eyes of a pockmarked youth on the other side. The denizens of the Fort Hill neighborhood were notoriously difficult when it came to repossession. They signed the contract – what exactly did they expect to happen?

“Excuse me lad but would you kindly step aside?” said Daniel, preferring diplomacy over force.

“Back the way ye came. We don’t want no trouble but I ain’t afraid to bring it.” replied the boy with feigned bravado.

“My employer has legal ownership of the specimen in your keep. You preventing my right to collect amounts to the unlawful possession of stolen property. Legally speaking, the only ‘trouble’ here is your lack of cooperation. I would prefer not to involve law enforcement but if you leave me no choice…”

The door creaked open without further protest and Daniel entered, hat in hand. Distorted shadows decorated the walls of the candlelit interior. A forlorn congregation resided at the far side of the room, gathered around the source of their sorrow. They invoked the names of saints – Saint Patrick, Saint Peter, Saint Brigid of Kildare. Hearing those names again brought him back to a different time and gnawed upon old wounds.

Daniel cleared his throat before speaking. “Mrs. McDonnell?”

A stout woman rose to her feet and turned to face him. Her skin and posture bore all the hallmarks of hard living, giving her the appearance of someone nearly twice her true age. She stared at him with tired, bloodshot eyes, but spoke not a word.

“Can’t ye see me mum’s in mourning?” said the young man from the door. “Give us time to grieve!”

“I am sorry for your loss but time is what matters here. Monetary compensation depends entirely on the freshness of the specimen. The University will not pay for inoperative materials. The Dead Contract was quite specific.”

“His name ain’t ‘specimen’, it’s Sean McDonnell! Show the dead some respect!” shouted a middle-aged man bearing a close resemblance to the deceased – perhaps a brother.

Daniel sighed. “I get it. You’re God-Fearers. Papists, clearly. But Mr. McDonnell made a choice to sign that contract. Would you have him be made a liar? A man unable to keep his word? What you cling to is but an empty vessel. His ‘soul’ is gone. I’m sorry but that is simply what it is.

I want you to be compensated. I truly do. No doubt you’ll need it with him gone. But you’ll get nothing if you keep this up. I have an auto-hearse waiting up front. Deliver his body and I’ll pay the maximum amount I’m allowed.

Be quick about your choice. Time is running out.”

Daniel surrendered a curtly bow before taking his leave of the townhouse. Leaning alongside his hearse, he perused the latest issue of The Boston Globe while giving his pocket-watch the occasional glance. He had already begun to make his way to the driver’s seat when a surly pair, the maybe-brother and the pox scarred youth, came out carrying the swaddled remains.

Daniel folded the newspaper and placed it underarm. The backdoor of the hearse sprung open with the pull of a lever, allowing the McDonnell kin to deliver their beloved dead.

“You made the right choice.” said Daniel.

The youth declined to make eye contact and left without further confrontation. Daniel handed an envelope to the older McDonnell, who pocketed the payment quick as he blinked. The man sized Daniel up and down before speaking.

“You’re Irish, ain’t ye?” he said.

“Aye,” said Daniel after a moment of nervous hesitation. “Family came here fleeing the Great Famine.”

“That so…” he replied, nodding his head slowly. “So ye ain’t just preying on the desperate, but ye own kin.”

“I don’t have time for this. This is progress. For the betterment of man. Our science will save more lives than your Dark Age superstition ever could.”

“Progress? I’ve seen what really happens to the dead.

Devil take ye, necromancer.”

Rembrandt_-_The_Anatomy_Lesson_of_Dr_Nicolaes_Tulp

 

A few fleeting glimpses

 

Bedlam Prophets

A corpulent doomsayer spewed forth another dread portent. Gaunt disciples sift for meaning among the vomitus. Sallow blindfolds fail to hide the weeping wounds of their hollowed sockets. “Eyes plucked by their very own hands,” went the rumors. “Saw something they shouldn’t have.”


 

The Sacrificed

War-zeppelins rain down fire and brimstone from the sky. Those below rasp profane litanies from their sulfur soaked lungs, cursing God more than any mortal. The dying drown in layers of blood, mud, and excrement; there would be many lies told in their name – lies of glory, of honor and selfless martyrdom. Another wave charges from the trenches, another wave to die to gunfire and alchemical weapons. A row of privileged officers stay behind, ready to open fire on those that refuse their suicide commands.

Black robed mystics gather around a mountain of corpses. Laying hands upon the dead, they chant words belonging to no human tongue in accents thickly Russian. The mountain trembles – the dead would soon outnumber the living.


 

The Gospel of Truth

He left a gift of candles and scrolls outside the windowless monastery. The Jesuit only wished to understand the heresy. “Take off your mask,” urged the bandage wrapped Perfecti. “And shed that cloak of Demiurge flesh. Its seams have already begun to fray – a soul eager to be born.” Those within walked on phantom limbs and spoke with phantom tongues.


 

Her Undulating Vastness

An ill omen was ignored in the night. Blame fell on the watchman, whose flayed carcass was hanged from the bow. The sailors prayed before consigning their sacrifice; silent and still, they awaited judgment from the sea.

Their judgement arrived in the form of Echidnean spines, which pierced the hull and anchored the ship in place. Thick tendrils coiled around the vessel and squeezed; the pressure caused iron rivets to burst, shredding anyone unfortunate enough to be within their path.

A throat needed to be slit and none know where to lay the blade. Straws were drawn and drawn again. A gunshot rang from the captain’s cabin, followed by a scent of blood on the wind and screams that never seemed to end.

Those that remained cast aside their straws. They passed around a bottle of whisky, followed by a tincture of cyanide.

The Drowned Kingdoms called and that abyss hid a fate worse than any death.

 


 

God’s Blind Spot 

Life was cheap in the Great Below but its denizens bred quickly in the darkness. Labyrinthian ruins were known to inspire strange blasphemies throughout Earth’s hollow and Churchmen were sent to combat the spread of heresy.

“The deep colonies were a mistake and the same can be said of this mission,” lamented the Bishop of Grayshade in his letter to the surface. “Not even the Lord’s Light reaches these depths. There are structures here older than Adam. Such ramifications give pause to even the most pious of us.”

Few remembered the Sun but the deep colonists claimed to have found another. It was said to be beyond the fungal forests and the Abyssal Sea – beyond the Pale and their hideous familiarity.