1. It’s Only a Monster

Her name is Isora. She is the daughter a gang Boss. And her cloak itches.

Her father holds her hand in his, walking her through a forest of steel that neither of them can see. Twisted, jagged metal spires whose purpose has long been forgotten. They are what remained of the Twenty First age, before the Great Detonations, long ago. The event that blinded the world.

As for the other senses:

She can hear leaves of rust peel away from the steel ruin in the soft breeze. She can smell their parchment-thin sheets as they sway through the air and settle on the ground. She can feel their the tremble of their ever-so-light impact as they hit the ground like a featherfall.

Her father leads her through this terrain. He had awoken her shortly after the morning birds started singing. He had helped her get dressed and clasped the cloak of crow-feathers around her neck. She had wanted to tell him it was itchy at the time, but she’d decided against it. She had to wear it.

And she knew why.

Her father leads her through Muninn Point, now. “I have a surprise for you,” he tells her, again and again. Isora doesn’t answer. She’s never liked her father’s surprises. (Of course, she’d never tell him that).

She can hear someone breathing, far and away. She wipes the sweat from her brow, tells herself it’s just an early riser making ready for the day. “There are no monsters in Muninn Point, her father always tells her. “I do not tolerate monsters in my district.”

Isora does not understand why he calls the place his district. He’s told her before that the Crown itself appointed the House of Em to oversee it. He also tells her she’ll understand when she’s older.

Her Father stops in front of the doors to a basement they cannot see. The structure above it has long since collapsed, though they cannot see that either. He rubs his thumb against her knuckles. “Do you remember my instructions, Isora?”

“Yes, Father—”

“Your Grace.”

“Your Grace,” Isora bows her head. “Yes, your Grace. I do. I mustn’t cover any of the four senses. No matter what happens. I must pay attention.”

“Very good.”

Ivan opens the door. Its hinges let out a bloody wail. His hand finds Isora’s, and she is led down wooden steps that groan like she had when Ivan had roused her from sleep that morning. The room smells musty, which doesn’t help her mood. She already has so few distractions from how itchy her cloak is. Now she can’t even smell anything without gagging. So instead, she listens to her father’s blade-sheath slap against his thigh as he walks.

“My Crows have brought me something remarkable today,” he tells her. “Consider this a rite of passage.”

She hears her father’s hand on rattling on a doorknob, then something on the other side of the door. She wonders if it is a dying hog. It certainly sounds like it. Isora swallows, thickly. “Your Grace. I’m afraid.”

She hears her father’s knees protest when he crouches, places his hands on her shoulders. “You’re twelve years old now, Isora. You’ve long since had your blood. You’re almost a woman already.” His first two fingers draw a line down her face. They’re rough as leather and not comforting. “How fast you’ve grown. Soon you’ll be the Boss of my gang. And you must learn a Boss’s resolve.”

She hears a sound, and cannot decide if it is her Father’s joints sighing as he stands. Perhaps he merely adjusted his cloak. (He did.) With a sharp intake of breath, he swings the door open and leads Isora inside.

They do not see the early-morning light filtering through the window, nor the fire in the hearth built to keep the dying-hog-sounding creature from freezing. They cannot see the orange gloom that bathes the room. Isora cannot see that the creature is tied to a chair with a sack over its head, or the projector Ivan has positioned on a table, facing the thing making the unsettling sound.

Ivan spreads his arms wide in a theatrical gesture that benefits only him the same way you might smile even if no one is looking. “Welcome,” he says, “Azoc: Boss of the Fangs!”

“The Fangs of Sandpiper Quarter, where the monsters dwell,” Isora says. She’s not sure if it’s a question. She doesn’t know why she said it. She only knows that she’s heard it so much that she can’t not say it at the mention of Fangs.

“The very same,” Ivan tells her, grinning a grin that Isora can’t see. But she hears how the volume of his voice changes as he faces away from her, toward the bound Fang Boss Azoc. Ivan sniffs audibly, follows his nose, hands outstretched until they find the obscured face of the masked thing.

The unsettling screams turn to quick, frightened pants. Muffled breaths. For a moment, Isora thinks she’s the source of them.

“My lieutenants will be well rewarded for your capture. I’ve been waiting for this moment for a long time, Boss Azoc. Now what sort of monster are you.”

Isora hears the sack fwoosh off his head. Boss Azoc gasps as the gag is removed. “Boss Ivan,” he growls, “Your Murder of Crows ambushed me in my district! Release me, or you and your gang will suffer—” Azoc chokes on the gag as it’s stuffed back down his throat.

Isora smells sweat on Boss Azoc. And blood. She hears her father’s fingers tracing his flesh. There’s a soft rustle.

“It’s got fur, Isora.”

“What else is there?” she asks.

Boss Ivan feels his way around the edges of Azoc’s eyes, his mouth. “It’s marked itself with strange runes. Doubtless for the purposes of black arts. Dark magic. Wait. What’s this?”

Isora hears the slick sound of her father’s fingers sliding through sweat, smells blood on them as they come away from the monster’s head.

“It’s got scales, too. It’s like the Nailed God made a dozen creatures from clay and mashed them together in His divine fist. Oh, but to have the Sight right now. To see the despair on your face, Boss Azoc.” Ivan pauses, tilts his head, stalks his way round the monster.

“Do you know of the Sight, Boss Azoc? When the perfect culmination of light and color allows us to see as are ancestors did? How many times have you had it? Surely the ailment has afflicted you at least once. And as much as I’d love to stick a blade in your gut…”

Isora hears her father loosen his blade in its scabbard.

“…I’ve thought of a better use for you.” He stalks over to the table, where the projector sits, waiting. “Imagine if someone could force the Sight on you. Imagine if they had something that filtered through light and color until it found the combination that could color your iris. I hear it’s a form of temporary insanity.”

Isora hears metal filing against wood as Boss Ivan drags the rough hooks into position. They are corded around the back of the chair, and filed into a point on the end. He inches them slowly forward, until he feels their sharp ends faintly prod his captor. Then he drags them back, touching Azoc’s face, then the hooks, making measurements, until assesses they are in line with his brow.

“Man was not meant to see the world in such a way,” Ivan continues. “That’s why the Nailed God sent down the Detonations. Imagine what it would do to a man’s mind if he had fits of insanity forced on him at the whim of his captor.” He seizes Boss Azocs face, jerks it toward him and whispers: “I’d advise you keep your eyes open. If you close them I’m going to nail them shut. If I don’t hear a scream, you see, I’ll shove those hooks through your eyes. I’ll know if you’re faking. I know how folk scream when they get the Sight.”

He stalks away from Azoc, toward his device. Boss Ivan’s fingers whisper over his device. When Boss Ivan flicks it on, it moans to life.

And then the machine whirs. Then it clanks. Like a trash bin tossed down a flight of stairs.

She does not see the beam of light as it is activated.

Isora notices she’s stepped closer to the two men. She can hear the perspiration slithering down Boss Azoc’s face; she’s not sure if it’s him or the rickety chair doing the squealing while he struggles against his bonds. Isora trembles. “Y-y-your Grace,” she says, “What’s going to happen to him?”

“I don’t expect his mind can handle it. Heh. Few could. But we’ll find out.” The two do not see the projection of light filtering through a rainbow of colors, dimmer and brighter, darker and lighter. Boss Azoc still struggles.

“But why are you doing this?”

“Do I detect a note a sympathy?” There is an angry edge to her father’s voice, barely sheathed. “For him?”

“I—”

“Do I?”

“I…no. No sympathy.”

“Good girl.”

They hear Boss Azoc struggling and murmuring. Then all is quiet. They do not see the green fade into his irises. They cannot see the orange gloom, the filtering sunlight, the crow-feathered cloaks on a young girl and an old man with graying temples.

But Boss Azoc does. First he whimpers. Then he screams.

It is a loud and shuddering wail that Isora feels in her bones. She reaches out for something—anything else to listen to. But all she can find is the net of birds taking wing from a tree, fleeing the sound that Isora is stuck with.

Azoc is thrashing while Boss Ivan laughs. Isora stands still, listening to the shrieks. The stomping of feet. She sniffs the air and scowls at the smell.

“The last ounce of courage is trickling down his leg,” she tells her father. “Isn’t this enough.”

She hears her father following his nose toward her, stomping. She takes two involuntary steps backward before he’s holding her hair close to her scalp. She does not move for fear of what he might do next.

“There can be no measure for mercy to monsters! That aside,” his grip on her hair loosens. “This can stop when he tells me who’s next in line to lead the Fangs.”

With a swirl of his cloak Boss Ivan crosses the room toward the screaming, thrashing, Azoc. He cannot see the color in his irises coming and going. He crouches next to him, eyes closed, and whispers: “Where do you billet yourselves. I know you operate out of Sandpiper Quarter. But where do you hide away?”

A muffled scream is his only response.

“You don’t want to disappoint my daughter, do you? Come now. We’re waiting.”

Isora trembles in the corner, reaching out for something else to focus on. But all she finds is a crazed Boss. Maybe two, she wonders. “No sympathy, she tells herself. “It’s only a monster. No sympathy, it’s only a monster. No sympathy, it’s only a monster. No sympathy, it’s only a monster. It’s only a monster. It’s only a monster…”

Her name is Isora. She is the daughter a gang Boss. Her cloak itches.

Today is her birthday.

Table of Contents

Ko-fi

Author: Connor M. Perry

From an early age, I learned how to divide by four. See, two minutes after I was born, I discovered three other newborns hot on my heels. I was a quadruplet. And I needed to learn to how to share. Everything. At an early age, I took to writing so that I could have something unsharable. I began writing small stories online for my own enjoyment, and gradually moved to more ambitious ideas. I've been running my blog The Mythlings for two years now, publishing a new installment every Friday. I've enjoyed creating different worlds, characters and relationships in my stories. I currently live in Worcester, MA with my girlfriend, two cats, and a collection of swords.

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