The smell of old timber.
Dust on the nose.
The echo of footsteps through the rafters.
Angelina paused in her step to glance around her at the unfinished warehouse walls. Most of the shutter-style wooden window frames were either stuck or cracked open, and the majority of the glass was broken. Maybe gone to time.
A breeze rustled the teen’s hair offering the abandoned building little reprieve from its haunting emptiness. She knew this place, but where from? And how did she get there?
All Angelina saw behind her was thin dust over scraped wood. And two sets of prints. She suddenly became aware of the fact that she wasn’t alone.
The young man to her left was glancing back the way they’d just come too. A faded, brown cloak was tied around his waist with a wide leather band. His collar and sleeves dipped and fell into wide folds up top and below.
The pouch at his back suggested a traveller supported by simple pants and flat-soled boots made of some sort of animal hide. He certainly hadn’t come from anywhere near, not dressed so comfortably, not with clothes in such good repair.
“I don’t see anything,” the other mumbled. His voice carried a soft echo.
A nod. Not her, not her companion.
Angelina glanced down finding her own clothing a match for the young man beside her, but her clothes were oversized like she was wearing another’s garb.
Like she was wearing another person!
The fourteen year old quickly stepped back withdrawing from the blurred body with a thin trail of brown streaming after her. That brown lingered a moment before returning to a solid, much older man dressed like the first: the man whose place she’d taken just a moment before.
Now removed from that old man with his wispy white hair, Angelina felt a chill. He stopped his nodding to turn staring straight at her with a piercing gaze. His left hand moved to the sword at his hip. Angelina moved to the right, and his eyes followed her, so she stopped.
“Kee.Sowea.Ashille,” the old man hastily muttered tracing a slanted square in the air adding wayward points.
Angelina smiled. He was a mage.
He had to be a mage. Maybe even a wizard.
“Nor do I,” the old man softly groaned a moment later returning his gaze to a more general scan of the building. The old man’s voice was equally, almost unreal. “But I sense something’s quite wrong here.”
What had to be his apprentice grinned cockily. “I don’t know what that would be,” he joked. “Would it be the scorch marks, smells that curl your nose hairs, or mucusy trails maybe?”
Angelina turned following the young man’s pointed finger finding recognition. She did know this place all too well.
The second floor had been broken through to their right just ahead. Where the floor had crashed down onto the first cement flooring, nearby wood had been ripped up sending posts and bins outwards all the way up to the outer wall which was of course broken through.
There was fluttering above and speckled light showing the offender had actually fallen from the third or fourth floor to crash down to first before continuing on outside.
By that black scarring around and under that path of destruction with periodic mucusy splatter, it was clear there’d been a fight all the way down and out.
Angelina had been here once, but she hadn’t managed to stay inside more than an hour. The echoes from the wood and walls were too strong. It had felt like the building had been screaming at her. Of all the places her dreams had taken her, they’d never taken her here before, and who were these men willing to brave this building?
“This definitely does take one back,” the old man grumbled in his gravelly voice, “and it’s clear they were unsuccessful in killing the beast, or there’d be the petrified remains of an abandoned pyre outside where they’d burnt the corpse. And the smell does hold as does the darker lore and fear of this place that follows. I did warn you what you would find.”
His companion smiled sheepishly. “You did.”
“Stay alert,” the old man warned. “I know we haven’t seen much more than this sort, but there are too many questions, and there is some merit to the old adage that a place can be too quiet.”
The old man gestured towards the far end of the warehouse floor ahead. “Stay unseen even if we’ve yet to find a foe. And don’t forget what’s brought us south.”
“Why would they be here anyway?”
“In a place viewed by the average man as tainted and unholy due to its unpleasant history,” the old man agreed. “Another reason this feels like a trap.”
Nodding, the young man crept on ahead. The old man walked up to that the great burned scarring. Angelina stepped back and further to one side to keep her distance. Kneeling again, the old man slowly shook his head.
Angelina circled while the old man scanned the floor and walls. She paused to gaze out a window. The sun shone in the blue sky. She could even pick up the low wall built around Iroquois Falls. It had been night when she’d fallen asleep beyond that barbed fence line. Her visions had never taken place out of time before. They’d always shown her things happening at that exact moment in time.
What did that mean?
Hearing the old man walking softly off, she turned back around and followed, careful to tread her quietest as well. No one had ever heard her in previous visions, but this one was different. He did stop at the base of the stairs leading up to turn and scan, and he did pause to stare where she stood a moment longer than anywhere else; then, he frowned and started up to the second floor.
Angelina followed after.
She tried to at least.
Her vision took a spiral turn down as if she was falling to the floor, but at the same time, she felt like she was above gazing down upon the old man as he turned and crept along the second floor. She could feel her arms restrained and breathing tight. Her stomach was starting to turn. Then, she all was dark and she felt intense terror from a place unknown, and she awoke with a start!
A stifled scream echoed in the dim around her, and she fought to slow her breathing. Someone turned over in the far corner, and four people mumbled in different places behind her, fourth, seventh, and twelfth rows. The full moonlight shone through the curtainless auditorium windows above. That bleached light blanketed the barren walls, badly marked gym floor, and warped bleachers.
Sitting up, trembling where she was under the eighth row, her blanket fallen back and pillow rolled over upside down beside her, Angelina let the dim light that fitted through the bleacher slats above identify the single and double clumps around her that were people.
It was early morning. This late, now that everyone had settled, no one moved much but to swat at an imaginary fly or scratch their nose. There were a few squirming, but all had returned to quiet and peaceful.
Her other visions had never left her sweating and fearful like this. She hugged her bare arms to her faded t-shirt feeling them shake. It made no sense. They said the warehouse and those buildings around it were haunted. She’d felt something the one time she’d gone in. That’s why she hadn’t stayed. It was like something dark had been watching her.
Maybe she’d been right.
And now that something dark was watching those two men. She wanted to warn them, but when was this vision set? It had been daytime. Tomorrow or would it be the day after that? It might even be next week for that matter. And who were they? More importantly, how would she explain to anyone in town why she needed to leave to go visit a place no one visited? That is what she’d need to do to warn them.
Even then, she might be too late.
Spider or Fly
StarBen paused in his step to glance carefully, quietly around. A light breeze blew in through the open windows. Most of the shutter-style wooden window frames were either stuck or cracked open, and the majority of the glass was broken. Maybe gone to time.
There was no scent on that breeze as it rustled his wispy white hair and the more unruly strands of his beard where they stuck out.
There was nothing to see all along the way he’d come. Warehouse walls had been stripped bare to show what remained of industrial wiring. Even the insulation that had once been stuffed between those many beams had been removed at one point along with any stray nail.
The floor was badly scuffed. Again, over time. Thin, settled dust sat untouched except to show where he and his apprentice had trod. This apprehension was just old memories that refused to die he supposed.
“I don’t see anything,” his apprentice noted, seemingly disappointed. He grinned as if to make a joke, but StarBen raised a finger, and the grin was drawn back into a more respectful expression. His breath was withdrawn and held at the same time.
Faded, brown cloaks were tied around the waist with a wide leather band. The pouches sewn at their backs attached to those waist bands hung low enough for a quick retrieval of smaller goods when necessary. Collars and sleeves dipped and fell into wide folds up top and below. Travelling pants and flat-soled, animal hide boots completed their current garb. Larger packs had been discarded outside, then, secured under several layers of protective spell weaving.
StarBen nodded pensively a moment before feeling a chill. He turned quickly, positive he saw someone there. There was a shape, a mind’s image , and he followed it two steps to the left.
Then it was gone. Had never been there?
Bad memories. Or could it be?
“Kee.Sowea.Ashille,” the old wizard quickly whispered while making a quick series of signs with his right hand. His left hand remained on the medium-sized sword at his left hip. Still unable to shake his anxious mindset but confident the concealment spells were still holding true, StarBen sighed, then, shook his head. “Nor do I,” he softly groaned, concealment spells or not, “but I sense something’s quite wrong here.”
His much younger apprentice braved that earlier grin again. “I don’t know what that would be,” the twenty-two year old hesitantly joked. When there was no objection this time, he spoke on. “Would it be the scorch marks, smells that curl your nose hairs, or mucusy trails maybe?”
StarBen found a sympathetic smile following the young man’s pointer finger ahead. The second floor had been broken through to their right just ahead.
Where the floor had crashed down onto the first cement flooring, nearby wood had been ripped up sending posts and bins outwards all the way up to the outer wall which was of course broken through.
There was fluttering above and speckled light showing the offender had actually dropped from the third or fourth floor to crash down to first before continuing on outside.
By that black scarring around and under that path of destruction with periodic mucusy splatter, it was clear there’d been a fight all the way out.
There’d been three similar signs of struggle on the other side of this and the other nearby buildings as they’d come around, casing this warehouse in particular before daring an actual entrance.
“This definitely does take one back,” StarBen rued in his gravelly voice, “and it’s clear they were unsuccessful in killing the beast, or there’d be the petrified remains of an abandoned pyre outside where they’d burnt the corpse. And the smell does hold as does the darker lore and fear of this place that follows. I did warn you what you would find.”
His apprentice smiled sheepishly. “You did.”
“Stay alert,” StarBen warned. “I know we haven’t seen much more than this sort, but there are too many questions, and there is some merit to the old adage that a place can be too quiet.”
StarBen gestured towards the far end of their current warehouse floor ahead. “Stay unseen even if we’ve yet to find a foe,” he insisted with a troubled sigh. “And don’t forget what’s brought us south.”
“Why would they be here anyway?”
“In a place viewed by the average man as tainted and unholy due to its unpleasant history,” StarBen agreed. “Another reason this feels like a trap.”
Nodding, his apprentice found his own wary frown and crept on ahead. StarBen walked up to that the great burned scarring. Kneeling again, he slowly shook his head.
There were signs where bedrolls or blankets had been, but they were old too. Clearly dares were held to see who would stay where the beasts had once been. That was the lot who’d visit such a place anymore, and it was unlikely any of them had actually stayed the night.
StarBen pulled a small blue crystal from one of the folds in his belted cloak. Staring into those glimmering lines, he whispered words of change, and the image cast over the crystal’s surface was no longer his own.
That now solid lighter blue colour wasn’t reassuring. The youth were near, but there was no image of the three they sought. The exact shade of blue suggested only one of the three was present now. What had happened to the other two? They’d sensed three youth before entering.
He glanced around again feeling things were terribly wrong. The greatest question returned first and foremost on his mind.
“Why would any of you be here of all places?” he mumbled, scanning the floor, walls, and ceiling in turn. “What would drive you into a building most others eagerly avoid?”
He hid the crystal away, stood, and made some quick signs. “Ovan. Ariagas,” he added giving power to the constellation he’d traced. Breath turned misty a moment as if exhaled in the snow, and the breeze took a fresher scent. He scrutinized the air around him like a lingering smoke or coloured scent might appear, but the room remained silent and unchanged.
“Mosa. Ariagas,” he muttered more forcefully with a similar quick weaving of hand and finger. His eyes went to the dust and wood underfoot this time. Nothing but a lifting and gentle fluttering of the dust directly around him. The dust settled again like the silence that surrounded him.
“Like it was back then,” he softly rued. “But you came out of nowhere back then too.” A quick glance diagonal where his fair haired apprentice ducked under a leaning beam, then, turning deftly around with hands up. Nothing came at him, and he smiled, crouch-walking on. “I was never that young and assuming.”
StarBen nodded and started a slow trek towards the stair column leading up to the second floor. Basic wooden construction transferred from the wall to steps and rails. He paused to turn at that bottom step.
He was sure he was being followed.
By something or someone unseen even by his spells. It had been a long day. Maybe his apprentice was right, and there was nothing to fear.
StarBen frowned and visually followed the burnt char back from that outer wall to its crash from above, then, climbed those steps to peer out upon the second floor.
On that second floor, that broken ceiling continued up surrounded by more mucusy black. Two beams had been broken through. Two others had been snapped and left on a bad lean.
Otherwise, walls showed the same bare bones construction with ample open space. Empty pallets were set up in the distance where the ceiling had fallen through. Feathers and rotten insulation had long since settled. StarBen nodded and frowned. Mould caught his nose, and he stalked quietly down the corridor to his right finding an open room with similar telltale signs of past violence.
The broken-through wall on this side had been spotted from outside. In this case, the attacker had burst in from outside, not dropped and raced out.
Residual mucus had splashed up into the corner inside around a concentrated burn indent digging down into the floor below.
His apprentice stepped up beside him and gave the room distracted glance. “It’s the same in the next room. There’s nobody here. Something must be throwing our search off, or they were about and then left.”
“And yet our Search still puts them here.”
StarBen knelt and touched the floor. His fingers fanned out with his palm cupped. Words were mouthed with eyes closed. When he opened them again, stains long lost to time resurfaced.
The floor showed ashen remains and black globs. Blood splatter trailed to walls where eleven had died, and that burned indent showed a small family where they’d died, fused with solid wood where the main attack had been. Lifting his hand, his sight retreated from past history to present dust and unimpressive wood.
“These smaller attacks were connected,” StarBen reasoned, “but of different sources. This Algrinai attacked and scooped up its particular targets,” he suggested, gesturing to the grooved corner indent, “leaving the other bodies where they’d fallen. The survivors likely fled to other rooms where they faced those attackers or just fled out into the night.”
“Algrinai were known to attack in packs,” his apprentice noted sceptically. “How do you know they attacked at night?”
StarBen winced. “They were spread out like they were sleeping.” He shrugged. “Let’s give the rest of this place a good look-over, then, prepare some wards.”
His apprentice’s smirk was evident. “I thought only the people down here feared these places anymore?” His smirk faded under StarBen’s quick, scrutinizing eye.
“Call it practice if you will,” the older wizard urged, still in his crouch. “Call it precaution. If our search is off, there’s something down here keeping us from uncovering their true location, and that something seemingly wants us to be here. In this place.”
His apprentice slowly exhaled. He glanced more warily around. “Something unseen and unheard,” he mumbled to StarBen’s rather pointed nod. “And invisible,” his apprentice added, staring at the burned flooring and wall with a quick swallow. “You realize the last Algrinai was killed seventy years ago. This is all long past now.”
“I’ve never been quite convinced of that.” StarBen stood allowing his apprentice a brief smile before adding, “We still only know a little of what lies beyond the Veil. Don’t give yourself so freely to accepted truth based on incomplete finds.”
A stray smell caught StarBen’s nose, and his head darted around. The smell was gone. Body sweat, burnt syrup, something rich but sour – it was gone as quickly as the sense of being watched had come and gone before.
Something was toying with them.
StarBen had never liked the game the Cat and Mouse, and he refused to be prey. With a decisive nod, he started towards the other side of the second floor leaving his young apprentice to sigh and shake his head, before following a foot behind.