Chapter I |club sandwich please
It was lunchtime.
And Goddess above Brendolyn was hungry. The line before her seemed to stretch out, an endless Hel she could not escape as her stomach rolled and growled. If she looked out the large front windows with golden script carefully, patiently, near painfully sprawled in elegant hand and found it darker than night she would not be surprised to find herself in Hel. And in the deepest darkness of Hel’s depth. Goddess above she deserved it.
Brendolyn impatiently tapped her foot on the tiled floor of Jack Rabbits―the best restaurant in the entirety of the Lunar city if anyone asked―as she watched the time tick by on the clock shaped as a running hare hanging on the trinket covered wall.
She was going to be late and if she left without lunch she would be angry for her interview at Anne-Beth Academy of Advanced Arts. And she could not be fuming from an empty stomach when she went to her interview. Not when she had left behind her mother, her old life in Central Cannon for a chance to be normal, to pursue her dreams of being an artist without her mother snapping at her meaningless dream. Not when she was so close to those dreams which had damned her, made her mother dishonor her. Achieving her dream of attending one of the Republic’s most prestigious art schools. And from there on she could pursue her dream of working across the world with some of the most well known human artists alive. Maybe she could even work with the very humans who inspired the Academy.
Named after two of the greatest artists alive Anne-Beth Academy only accepted the best of the best. It was the goal of the school to send humans out into the world who could be like Anne and Beth Lincoln, human sisters who serve the Astra―elected rulers of the Republic for the last century since the fall of the last king.
Anne designed the banners and flags of the Republic―seven gold stars―one for each of the Astra members―on a black banner framed by gold―and Beth composed the anthem of the Republic. The Song of Freedom from those who held lives of millions in their greedy, blood-stained hands.
“Thank the Goddess!” She slammed her palms onto the counter, finally, finally reaching the front of the line. The nearest table of customers casted strange looks her way. “I’ll have a club sandwich please. I need it quick.” She said to the young girl behind the counter. She had bright green hair below her muted orange cap with the Jack Rabbit logo―a running hare―and a pale freckled face. “Right―”
Somewhere in the city a whining started, echoing through the Lunar City, echoing through the skyscrapers of the CBD and manor homes of the Fair Court, apartment complexes of Moonward and shopping districts of Old Town. It was like screaming, metallic bones grinding as the air boomed with warning.
Jack Rabbit seemed to pause, a barrow of prey listening for the predator above, ready to bolt, as the clattering of machinery filled the silence and solid shutters of iron thunked into place over the doors and windows of Jack Rabbit, anti-magic runes glowing a faint blue in the artificial lighting.
Since the current Archangel was elected the Lunar City had a massive upgrade. Once like the western Houses of the Republic the Lunar City had been disease ridden, criminal infested and corrupted by the daemons who managed to slip through the Rift.
“Shit. Shit. Shit.” She glanced at the clock. She was going to miss her interview if this lockdown lasted long. It had been nearly two months since the last lockdown was initiated, since the last daemon sighting sent the city into panic of anti-wards and protection charms bought in bulk quantity. For weeks now, charms had hung from doorways and windows, tailsmens hanging around necks. Brendolyn had even seen someone go as far as get a protection sigil permanently tattooed to his back. He came into the tattoo parlor where Brendolyn worked―BlueBloods―and had requested the sigil be drawn as large as possible. Brendolyn herself didn’t sketch it, seeing as she had no magical abilities, but a half-nymph Brendolyn liked to think of as a friend did sketch and ink it. The sigil had been wrong to her eyes, all rigid edges and sharp curves. When Brendolyn laid eyes on the sigil she had found it hard to breathe.
She never expected a daemon would appear today of all days. She should have just left early instead of staying in bed an extra ten minutes. She would have gotten to Jack Rabbits before the lunch rush. Would have been on her way and early for once.
But then she would have been on the streets when the siren sounded and the streets were pure chaos during lockdowns. People scrambled to find cover before the entire city was a graveyard, before the iron shutters locked them out in the streets with a daemon roaming, searching for a meal after its struggle reaching the light of the world.
“Great! Just great!” The cashier slammed shut the till with a huff and crossing her freckled arms leaned against the counter. “My mom’s going to flip.” She slammed her head into the countertop. The cap falling off her green hair revealing brown roots.
“If you come to BlueBloods I can get you a touch-up for free.” It was hard to hear herself over the siren as they screamed their warning like the damned souls of Hel―home to the Lady of Death and all the damned souls.
The black television screens mounted to the exposed orange brick walls blinked to life. On the screen the news anchor stood, her delicate features solem. Her hair reflected the studio light as it shifted like waves. There seemed to be a river rushing below her translucent skin.
“Good afternoon citizens of the Lunar city.” Every head turned towards the television, drawn in by the lull of the anchor’s voice. It was like the soothing trickling of water, weaving through stones. Eyes took on a hazed look as they settled on the siren. Brendolyn managed a scowl as she stood transfixed, a wave of tranquility rushing over her, the scowl soon falling.
She hated the Caeterus―beings from the Otherworlds―and their immortality, their otherworldliness. Hated the effect they had over her, how the sight of one could leave her breathless or a voice like the trickling of a stream could utterly transfix her. “Lockdown has been initiated and we advise you to stay calm until the situation has been handled. We will keep you updated.”
A tremor rattled the ground, powerful enough to send Brendolyn stumbling, shaking picture frames and tacky trinkets from the wall. They crashed to the floor, shattering into shards of glass and wood and gold.
“What the fuck?” The cashier spat, clutching the counter’s edge with blunt nails. On the screen the anchorwoman was glancing around the studio, seeing something the watcher’s did not. The waves below her skin churned with unease.
“Watch your tongue.” Brendolyn hissed at the girl, her hands planted on the varnished trimming of the wood counter to steady herself. Her breathing was quick as she scanned the restaurant, the siren’s spell not enough. Glass and wood splinters; flowers and water covered the floor where people sat, hands and knees blooded as they huddled under the tables. It turned the water a muddy pink.
But this was no earthquake Brendolyn knew for certain as she straightened. A horrid crackling came from the static video feed, worsened by the reverterating siren of grinding bones and screaming souls. The alluring anchorwoman was broken, pixelated. The spell she had casted over the humans in the Jack Rabbits fractured. Brendolyn felt panic crashing at her lungs, her heart. She was not the only human who began to panic.
“Citiz...Lu...ar...do...n...alarmed.” Her voice was fragmented, filled with alarm and panic; like waves crashing against a rocky cliffside, threatening to pull you out to sea. Brendolyn could feel herself drowning, the water filling her lungs as she stared at the puddles of blood tainted water.
Her ringtone cut through her hazing mind as that voice pulled her below crashing waves. The song Ragged Edges by Roses and Brimstone―Brendolyn’s favorite band―pulled her through the waves and Brendolyn pulled out her phone, gasping for air. She focused on the phone, at the picture of a grinning face of features sharpened by the wind and dark black hair stained by the night. Naomi. “Hello?” Brendolyn croaked into the phone. She was swimming towards the surface, the light growing near.
“What’s wrong babe?” Naomi’s voice came through the phone. It was soft winds and deep rumbles of thunder. “If it’s the lockdown it’s alright. It’s alright Bren. It’s being handled by the Legion.”
The Legion. Caeterus who betrayed the Astra during the civil war fifty years ago, when human rebels had demanded for humans to have rights, to be seen as equals to the Caeterus. But unlike the human rebels whom they fought beside. they did not walk free after the change in human rights, instead those who were traitors were punished for the disobedience by serving the Astra for eternity. Their powers were bound and if any of the bound hoped to free beings once more they would obey the orders of the Astra.
Since the spike in daemon activity in Lunar City the Legion had been sent by the Astra. The Archangel had announced it months ago when he had put in the request and it was accepted.
“Nothing. It’s nothing Naomi.” Brendolyn was staring at the pink-tinted puddles. It was as if the stink of copper―the stink of blood―clung to the roof of her mouth. But it wasn’t she knew it wasn’t. There wasn’t enough blood.
She sank to the floor, gasping, staring at the blood pooling. But it wasn’t pooling, it was just water from a smashed vase. A puddle of water. A puddle of water which the panicked voice of the siren had pulled her into.
Not pooling blood. Not blood on her hands. It. Was. Not. Blood.
“It’s not nothing Bren, tell me. It’s alright.” Naomi whispered into the phone. “I’m here for you.” Brendolyn wished she was here, not in that tower of iron overlooking the entirety of the Lunar City. Brendolyn wanted to hold her, to bury her face in the crook of Naomi’s neck and breathe in her smell of chilling winter winds and blackberries. Her smell was always the strongest at the crook of her neck, in the space that meets her shoulder; the place where Naomi’s blood pulsed towards her heart.
“Blood. Naomi there is so much of it.” She whispered it, staring at the puddle getting closer to her extended feet, as if it was clawing its way towards her, knowing what she had done. Brendolyn pulled her feet towards her, mindful of the dress she wore.
It was a pretty dress―not alluring, not beautiful―just pretty. Like Brendolyn. It was a rich shade of purple, the mid-thigh skirt accented with lace trimming the same shade; the collar was high and the straps hung off her narrow shoulders. Brendolyn had even done something other than a simple braid with her hair for today.
“Where are you?” Naomi asked, sounding as if she was shuffling through things, rustling and clattering a distant noise. “I’m just getting lunch. I’m fine Naomi. Really.” Brendolyn closed her eyes, focused on the soft breathing coming through the phone. Not the imaginary blood threatening to pull her away from reality.
“So Jack Rabbits?” Fabric rustled and Brendolyn sighed. “You can’t come here. It’s lock-up Naomi, there is a lockdown. You should know this, you were probably the one who initiated it.”
“Bren you’re having a panic attack and are all alone.”
“I’m in a restaurant full of people.” Brendolyn didn’t dare open her eyes, not with those bloody pools of water. She gripped her phone and tried to focus, she ever wished the siren news anchor came back on, that the signal would get fixed so she could listen to the tinkling of a stream.
“I’ll be there in a few minutes.” Naomi sounded as if she was outside, the wind howling into the speaker. It was hard to hear her.
“Hey are you alright?” Brendolyn’s eyes popped open and she glanced up. The green haired cashier was peaking over the counter, her brown eyes scanning Brendolyn’s tense form.
“My mom gets panic attacks. I can talk to you if you want.” She admitted and awkwardly crawled over the counter, her ragged black high-top sneakers hitting the debris littered floor. Brendolyn felt bad for the person who would be cleaning up this mess. It would probably be the teenage cashier who would be cleaning it up later.
“It’s alright Naomi. Get back into your office and stay safe.” Brendolyn muttered, suddenly feeling exhausted by her hammering heart. “I love you. Gotta go.” Brendolyn switched off her phone, tucking it into her purse. She felt the girl slide beside her.
“This is pretty bad isn’t it?” Brendolyn asked, still staring at the cracked ceiling. The body beside her, the pressure and heat of another human body anchored her in the sea of emotion she struggled to survive. It distracted her from the fact that the sea was not water, but blood. Churning, bubbling blood.
The past lockdowns hadn’t lasted this long, the power had never gone out. Brendolyn had never felt the wrongness of the city so strongly as she did know. Not even during past lockdowns.
Brendolyn had moved to Lunar City three months before the spike in daemon activity from a small border town over-ridden with crime called Central Cannon which had once been an outpost armed with large turrets which defended the borders of the Republic before it had spread west and took control of the Courts turned Houses. Like the Houses throughout the Lunar City.
“The worst we’ve had―or at least what I’ve experienced. My mom and I just moved here.” The girl was playing with a chipped nail when Brendolyn risked a glance.
“It’s a lie.” She wasn’t sure what she was saying. Brendolyn glanced at the glowing runes casting the room in a blue tint. The runes were the only light since the power went out after the third tremor.
“What?” The air moved as the girl’s head whipped towards her. Brendolyn could almost imagine it was a wind from Naomi’s wings as they rustled. She could imagine stroking her hands through the impossibly soft downy feathers.
“The news, pamphlets, the reviews. This city is wrong, I can feel it in my bones, in the air.” Brendolyn flicked a piece of lint from her dress. “I have lived with wrongness all my life and this city isn’t any different, it isn’t some place of new beginnings, it’s a place of deception and death.”
Brendolyn felt herself break through the surface of the raging ocean, gasping for air, clawing for something to pull her out of the churning sea. This entire city seemed to be sinking into the sea of crimson around her, stirring the crimson waters, sending waves her way as she treaded water and these panic attacks came quicker than ever before. More regular than in Central Cannon.
“You should leave while you still can.” Brendolyn whispered, staring at those glowing runes.
A deep machinic growling started and soon the lights flickered on above. A gasoline powered generator, smart of the owners of Jack Rabbits to have installed seeing as a firstlight outage would ruin their stock. But it seemed the humans of Lunar City were far more prepared for a catastrophe than the Caeterus.
A small cheer went through the huddled patreons. Brendolyn let out a sigh of relief. Thank the Goddess, she wouldn’t have been able to sit in the glow of those runes for hours; listening to the howling and rattling outside the reinforced iron shutters. Howling and rattling from the daemon or the wind’s Brendolyn was not sure.
The television screen flickered to life and on the screen was an aerial view of the CBD―the Central Business District ruled over by the Archangel. The sky-scrapers towered over each other, an unspoken competition to see who could be tallest, the mightest. The district was cast in darkness no matter the angle of the sun. No matter the time of day. Not even the firstlights―light created from the Caeterus’ initial plunge into the well of their immortal powers which granted them their prolonged lives―could pierce the darkness of the CBD.
But this battle did not take place in the shadows of the CBD but high above it. Between the towering sky-scrapers which reached for impossible heights and unimaginable architect.
The daemon had wings. Brendolyn had never heard of a winged daemon crawling from the Rift. Usually the creatures who managed to squeeze through the Rift were feeble daemons of unimpressive sizes and height.
But this daemon...Goddess above it swept her breath away.
It weaved through the towers; those towers like spears shooting from the darkness, piercing the dense shadows. Even through a screen Brendolyn could see the darkness, captured perfectly by the camera. The darkness she so desperately avoided in her life. Even if Naomi worked in the CBD Brendolyn never met Naomi after work. And maybe it made her a horrid companion, but Naomi understood.
Brednolyn could see the light being absorbed by the void. The bleakness of the district which seemed magical, so untouched by light and life and happiness. Maybe it was the Archangels way of imposing his power over those who were accomplished enough to gain jobs in his district. Maybe the daemon had crawled from the darkness of the CBD. Aided by the Archangel himself.
There were only two figures besides the daemon being captured on camera. Only two Legion members were meant to protect a population of millions. When Naomi had claimed the Legion was handling it Brendolyn would have thought more of the force would be focused on the threat to the city.
She had heard the Legion was over one hundred strong. But she was only seeing two of its members. Both wore battle-suits of night black and both had impossibly dark wings, so dark they seemed to be eating the light.
One dark winged Caeterus swept close, swinging twin blades of withering darkness. The daemon jerked away, its motions otherworldly, as if its body could not handle the realm of light it was in. As if the light revealed its gracelessness. Maybe in its realm it seemed endless, hidden by that eternal darkness Hel was depictured to hold.
Brendolyn wished she had her sketch book. She had opted to leave it at her apartment on Old town Avenue. Less of a risk of it falling into the hands of who ever would be interviewing her. That sketch book and its content would condemn her to a life of not attending Anne-Beth.
Letting out a defeated breath Brendolyn closed her eyes and prepared for a long, long lockdown. And the fact that it would be a long, long while before she got the club sandwich.
Hey everyone who's reading this! I don't know if this is to long or if it's find, but not all chapters will be this long. I just didn't think it could be split into another chapter.
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