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1: Bordeaux Speaks With Crow
The epochs pass. A certain higher-sensed creature records its progress. And though a time has been reached where this creature can safely assume that all has been revealed to him – namely that modern man has tread upon all the earth, certain locales have been deemed but futile to the progression of his culture. As such, there are places dotting the planet that have remained ignored for centuries.
One such region exists somewhere where coniferous forest and unyielding rock have deemed exploration and habitation impossible. Lost among these mountains, seemingly teetering on the edge of the world itself, stands Tenebrae Manor. Pertaining to the architectural caliber of styles introduced centuries apart, the mansion dons an immediately unique and timeless appearance. Upon observing characteristics seen on the ancient keeps of the dark ages, to whimsical features native of Georgian and Gothic decor, it is at once discernable that Tenebrae Manor must have stood for centuries. But the epochs pass, and that umbrageous façade remains untouched by the populace, merging into a sort of sickly castle-mansion hybrid. The uninviting mansion is home to a handful of surreal apparitions, doting the darkness with twilit minds set only on utter seclusion from the outside world around them. They are a ghastly bunch, floating aimlessly down the endless dusty corridors.
Who are these beings? These immortal wights of a half lit world? They are like the centipedes that scurry about their way in the soiled gloom as anti-supernal apparitions, avoiding the ways of the vagabond through strict adhesion to their immemorial home. Through a torrent of time so punishingly unrelenting, yielding not to the bemoans of ennui, of stagnation, these vapid spectres of shadow trudge ever onward. Adrift as they are in the vast cosmical sea of tree and rock, they gather. They gather because there is no one else. There is nothing else. This is the world they know, the world so omnipresent that any previous memories of a life before have been lost to the swampy recesses of the mind – like old dreams that one almost certainly forgets upon awaking. Their world is Tenebrae. They are the residents.
One such apparition, his name being Bordeaux, strides perfunctorily through the gnarled trees speckling the countryside. Aquiline of face, topped with a tangle of messy hair coloured to his namesake, Bordeaux carries with him an air of whimsy unmatched by that of the typecast demon. His skin is pale, hued white. His horns, violent as blood red, are small and curled as the twisted branches of the trees surrounding him. A burgundy coat is pulled taut across his narrow yet strong shoulders, which are hidden at times by the charcoal scarf draped about his collar. And as his fine black shoes crunched on the needles littering the forest floor, he turned his eyes skyward to observe the omnipresent canvas of night encompassing him. No moon shone at the present time, but it was no matter to Bordeaux. The years of darkness had left him with a seemingly enhanced vision. As such, a monochromatic gloom hung in the atmosphere, a tone of inescapable indifference.
Bordeaux’s scarlet eyes squinted earnestly as his face contorted to a grimace. It was not the night that was troubling him but rather the heat wave that had enveloped the region of late. Seemingly unending, much like the night itself, the heat had sapped much of the demon’s usual effervescent demeanor.
“Insufferable eternity!” he sighed, pressing a red silk handkerchief to his sweating temple before stuffing it back into his coat pocket.
His day had been a busy one. ‘Day’, it should be noted, referring solely upon twelve hours of time passing to where he stood now. For the forested regions of Tenebrae are shrouded in an everlasting blanket of midnight sky. Knowledge of such reasons surrounding this phenomenon trace their way back so far in time that they elude the present residents of Tenebrae Manor. Yet in spite of this, comprehension of an archaic magic spell has allowed remaining descendants to revivify the nightfall to a constant impenetrable strength. Yes, why the region is coated in night remains a mystery but the residents know that they prefer the darkness and choose to keep the spell active.
Bordeaux’s hours had been stretched to their limits. His position in Tenebrae’s walls as master of affairs was a most demanding vocation. However suiting it was to his pedantry, Bordeaux still found himself positively exhausted after the long hours working. And now, with the sudden arrival of a certain… guest, Bordeaux felt his frustration begin to overflow.
His spidery stride continued through the forest, steadily approaching the foot of the mountains. Out of the perpetual gloom before him a wooden hut manifested into view. Hearing his feet crunch on the pine needles, Bordeaux soon noticed another metronomic sound, namely that of steel splitting wood. As the hut came within reach, the demon slid his wispy hand along the log wall and circumnavigated it, shuddering at its splintery touch. And behind this hut a man came into view. Lean and muscular, two arms rose and fell, aimed and struck as an axe whirred down into the log chunk below, splitting like it was butter.
“Surely the firewood is unnecessary,” said Bordeaux.
The man, not even flinching to the sudden appearance of a demon at his side, brushed his hands onto his green tunic. His face was coated in a fine film of sweat, dripping from his chestnut curls. “Bordeaux.”
Crow nodded and scratched his scalp, the star-shaped ivy leaves which sprouted from a crudely made cap rustling. “Better to cut the logs now than leave it until the snows arrive.”
His visitor began to pace casually in a semi-circle around the humble campsite. Crow had certainly set up a homely residence.
“They are saying things,” said Crow.
Pondering a moment, Bordeaux replied, “Yes, I am aware.”
“I heard this one’s alive. More likely his sanity is on the decline but he lives.”
“It has been an age since we last had a live one,” said Bordeaux.
“I most definitely haven’t met one. Or should I say, another.”
“Ha! Hmm!” chuckled Bordeaux, “Yes, well, not all humans have your indifferent composure to the supernatural! Your decision to remain in this dusky locale bewilders me, then again, men are very strange creatures…”
Crow grinned. Mortal he was and comely for a youth in his third decade of life. Crow had assumed the role of a forest hermit, living under the black trees in a hut he had built himself.
“A human, yes. That is why I am here,” explained Bordeaux.
Crow had resumed his wood chopping but continued to listen to the master of affairs.
“I have received reports regarding his arrival. And as I am yet to lay my eyes on him myself, I ponder whether you have any information this demon may find interesting.”
“I had only a glimpse of him. Wandering through the trees, he was. He vanished from my sight quite quickly.”
“And you thought not to engage a conversation with him?” Bordeaux inquired. “Surely the familiar face of man would have strengthened his resolve?”
Crow slouched his shoulders and let the axe swing at his side, “Bordeaux, you know I like to be left alone.”
“Oh! Well pardon my intrusion!” the demon exclaimed, turning to walk away.
“No, wait!” called Crow. “Not you, the human. That is, I did not want to talk to him.”
“And no sooner than I’d seen him, I heard his cowardly scream off in the distance,” the wood hermit continued.
“Hmm, yes. Well, I had heard of his arrival within the manor itself.”
Crow’s brows raised. “Bordeaux, within the manor?”
The demon nodded, hands clasped behind his back.
“Is he mad?”
“How am I to know?” said Bordeaux. “I was hoping you could divulge such information.”
“I am not your messenger.”
“No offense was intended,” replied the demon. “It is just that I am so busy at present. Preparation and such.”
Crow grinned. “He he, yes. The lady’s birthday?”
Bordeaux nodded again, flicking a mote of dust from his burgundy coat. Another log split beneath the blow of Crow’s axe, until the hermit hesitated.
“Were I in charge, I’d merely ignore the human’s presence.”
“Yes. With the Lady Libra being so demanding, I’d be inclined to attend to her matters first. The human will deal with himself. In the end, they all die or go insane.”
“And you, my dear Crow?” sniggered Bordeaux.
Crow smiled in return to the jest. The wood hermit seemed eager to induce Bordeaux’s leave and he began to cut logs yet again. The crimson demon was not ignorant to his subtleties, though feeling somewhat deterred from his duties at the manor, remained idle within the campsite.
Bordeaux turned his gaze to a furnace glowing with embers, their dull glow reflecting off the iron braces strapped across a wooden shield that lay propped beside a stoker and bellows. Approaching it almost cautiously, he peered lower to obtain closer inspection. It was a fine shield to be sure, a product of expert craftsmanship. Carved into the three-pronged star shape of a sycamore leaf, curled iron braces clung to its painted surface to create intricate venation. Dotted along said steel veins, glossy emeralds lay embedded.
“Why, Crow,” Bordeaux gasped.
Crow had turned away from his axe work and was presently mopping the sweat from his brow. His visitor turned his head towards him. “Your work?”
“Just something I have been working on.”
Bordeaux shook his head. “Quite remarkable and no doubt suitable for an apt swordsman such as yourself. Or perhaps it is intended for decorative purposes?”
“No, the former, Bordeaux.”
The hermit became animated in a heartbeat, tossing the axe aside to present the fruits of his skills as a smith. He carefully picked up a lengthy strip of metal from the ground nearby and held it before him. “This, this is to be the sword to partner my masterpiece.”
“Impressive,” replied Bordeaux. “I have little reason to doubt it will be a spectacular weapon. I must interject though…”
“As to why?” Crow finished. “It is a precaution more than anything, I suppose. There have been more frequent sightings of Wood Golems recently.”
“Ahh.” Bordeaux hissed and rubbed his thumb and forefinger between his eyes. “More worriment.”
“Slow creatures, Bordeaux. Slow of mind and stature. I would not let it concern you.”
Bordeaux looked up and blinked with a sigh, “As you say, my dear Crow. I must ask you to be swift with your tempering of this weapon. For perhaps I may rely on you to keep these detestable things away from Tenebrae Manor?”
“I have enough to do about my own home.”
The demon simpered in a way that made Crow grit his teeth.
“Don’t be so coy, Bordeaux. If it pleases you, I will keep an eye out.”
“There’s a good lad.”
Bordeaux and Crow stood erect and stared intently at each other for what seemed like several minutes, before the crimson demon broke their locked gaze, turned and took a step back towards his abode. Crow returned to the chopping block and, for a moment, the only sound was the crunch of their feet upon the fallen pine needles.
Bordeaux glanced over his shoulder. “Certainly, should you hear any more news of the human…”
“I will inform you immediately,” Crow cut in. “But I’d say your fellow lodgers within the manor are likely to be more helpful.”
The splintering crush of dried conifer trunk beneath the cold blow of silver steel filled Bordeaux’s pointed ears as he set out on his return journey. Shuffling his shoulders within his coat, the sweat enrapt him as he groaned in discomfort. The heat was certainly playing on his nerves. And now, these Wood Golems! What impropriety had Bordeaux done to deserve such anxieties? As he wandered through the forest he slashed at a nearby tree trunk with his nails and hissed venomously through his teeth.
Tenebrae Manor loomed ahead out of the darkness, a macabre relic towering atop a small hill jutting from the jagged canopy. Bordeaux barely spared a glance at his immemorial home, too lost in his own reverie to enjoy the comforts of the dusky surroundings. Something was different. The demon could feel it in the atmosphere. Hidden amongst the suffocating heat, there was an unshakable feeling of foreboding, one that puzzled the fretful master of affairs.
Just as his mind began to turn back towards the tasks at hand, namely the birthday preparations for the mistress of the manor, his foot scuffed against a rough protuberance in the ground. He looked down in frustration at the interruption to observe a decayed shape crumble under his heel. One could be excused for thinking it merely an old tree branch or stump. But Bordeaux knew better of the surrounding regions and the creatures that lurked in the dark.
The creature in question at his feet was none other than a wood golem and its proximity to Tenebrae Manor only heightened his angst. The head, somewhat cylindrical and topped with dusty root like branches, had disintegrated significantly. It was most like that the creature had perished some time ago, for the bulging eyes of the thing had all but disappeared, leaving a pair of uneven hollows. Its body was indistinguishable from the soil about it, so decayed it was.
“So close to the house,” muttered Bordeaux.
He kicked at the corpse, dislodging the head from it and sending it hurtling down the hill.
“Ah, I do not need this!” he repeated to himself. Surely Crow would be of some help to keep the golems at bay but their increased frequency was troubling Bordeaux. Deadly though these creatures were, the golems were so slow that they were usually destroyed before they could wrap their claws about the throats of their victims. It was a favoured tactic of theirs, as some sick revenge for their own existence. They were essentially animated tree trunks, ripped from the ground by a noose and brought to life with the dark magic of a long gone baron of Tenebrae.
Bordeaux resumed his homeward stride, having formulated a plan of action in his mind. Yes, the golems could wait, if only for a moment. He had a celebration to plan and the mistress of the manor, the Lady Libra, was not wont to any form of patience or consideration.
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