Fresh Air
rating: +11+x

Foundation Gothic

A cold wind blew, howling like a lonely wolf on the countryside. Nothing seemed to move, save for the occasional cluster of dead leaves, blown skyward by the rushing wind. Everything seemed tense, as if nature itself were holding its breath in fear of some unseen predator.

The silence was broken by a man leaning against a dead tree to catch his breath. He tipped his flask high, drinking the last precious drops of water he had packed with him. The Netherlands did not agree with him, he had decided that much. The weather was dreary in London, but at least it wasn't so bleeding cold all the time. He was a clerk, not a mountain man. The wind swept past him again, knocking him off balance, and ripping his hat from his head.

He chased after it from a bit, before sighing and cutting his losses. He turned back to the road, and continued on his way to his client's estate. As he continued, the sky grew darker. It moved too slow to be noticeable, but a fog crept its way upon him. It grew darker and thicker as he went on, until he could barely see his hand in front of his face. The shadows of trees seemed to grow distant, leaving him alone.

Just when he had almost given up hope of finding the place, a courtyard came into view. An iron fence surrounded a large structure, made of old mossy stone. Ivy crept down the sides of it, twisting and knotting into strange shapes. A cold chill ran down the man's spine, and not from the wind. He collected himself, and continued up to the door.

Before he even had a chance to knock, it opened, just a crack. A rush of even colder air blew out, catching him off guard. He started to turn away, perhaps this had been a bad idea after all. But then, a deep, heavily accented voice spoke.

"I see that you found your HEY EDITORS! If you came here to fix this typo, don't, it's intentional!Way, safe and sound. You are Whately, Randolph?"

The man gulped, pushing against his fear. "Randolph Whately, yes."

The door opened fully, revealing a decrepit old man, in extravagant red robes. Randolph would have thought it was a starved victim of the wild, if it hadn't been for those eyes, which gazed at him with cold intelligence.

The figure regarded Randolph, before bowing deeply. "Welcome. Please, come in."

There was a tense pause, before Randolph bowed in return, and stepped inside with his suitcases. "You are… Mister Teiwaz vom Uradel, is that correct?"

The figure nodded, and smiled to the younger man. "Yes. But you come as a friend, you may simply call me Teiwaz." The way he pronounced it was harsh and guttural, as if the name wasn't meant to be pronounced by a human tongue. "Well met, Genç Whately."

On the inside, the place was dark, with only the occasional torch to shed light on the old walls. As Randolph followed Teiwaz through, he clutched his coats around him, feeling as if he were being watched. He was led past many oddities, skulls of strange beasts mounted on the wall, open doors leading to a seemingly endless rows of bookshelves, and strange machines which whirred and ticked with a rhythm of their own. Teiwaz looked over his shoulder at Randolph's bewildered expression.

"Forgive the clutter. I am a collector of sorts, and I have obtained many artifacts and relics over the long years. They hold great meaning to me." Teiwaz smiled, in a way that made Randolph's skin crawl.

Randolph paused to look at a small object on a shelf, an ornate mask, which smiled up at him. "Your findings are quite wonderful, if you don't mind my saying." He went to pick up the mask to examine it closer, only to be stopped by an icy grip around his wrist. He looked to his side to see Teiwaz, far too close for comfort. The smile was gone, leaving him with an even more eerie blank look.

Teiwaz spoke, barely above a whisper. "You shouldn't touch things that you find here. Follow me closely, and do not stray again."

Randolph pulled back his hand, nodding uncomfortably. Teiwaz turned, and continued. Randolph shot another glance at the mask, only to see it frowning in a disappointed way. He took a quick step back, mouth agape, before moving briskly to join Teiwaz.

After what seemed like hours of walking, the two reached a large dining hall, which looked as if it had not seen life in years. Dust caked empty glasses, and abandoned spiderwebs hung from the chairs.

Teiwaz gestured to the table with one of his skeletal hands. "Please, sit. We have much to discuss, I am sure."

Randolph nodded, and took the chair that looked the least likely to collapse under him, and opened one of his suitcases. Teiwaz sat beside him, again uncomfortably close. Randolph forced a smile, and began to produce documents and photographs from his suitcase.

"This, Mister Teiwaz, is the estate," He produced a picture of a large manor, and placed it on the table. "It's a rather large place for one man, but considering your estate now, it may in fact be a step down for you." Randolph laughed, in an attempt to lighten the mood, but it was met by silence.

Teiwaz scrutinized the photo, looking over every visible nook and cranny. Finally, he spoke. "And you say it is near the heart of the city?"

Randolph nodded enthusiastically, "Yes, in fact it's quite close to my own house. The only other structures nearby are other houses, and a hospital." Technically speaking, it was a madhouse, but Randolph didn't journey all this way to be turned down.

"To be close to the heart of the city is my wish, and it will be good to be close to my friend Whately, yes?" Teiwaz looked up at Randolph, a predatory smile on his face. The younger man cringed, but returned the gesture awkwardly. Teiwaz chuckled. "Do not worry, I would not impose myself on you. I have made certain arrangements, there are men in your London who wish to share in the knowledge I have collected over the long years."

Teiwaz looked down at the picture again. "And who is this lovely creature?"

Randolph looked closer, and realized Teiwaz was holding another photo. He stared for a moment, unsure of whether or not to speak. Gently, he took the photo out of the older man's hands, and placed it back into his suitcase. It was of a young woman, with her arm around Randolph. She had beautiful features, with long black hair, and a kind face. After a moment of tense silence, Randolph spoke.

"This is my fiance, Miss Elizabeth Stoke. We're to be married when I return."

Teiwaz nodded, his eyes still fixed on the photographs. He laughed, a good, hearty laugh. "How heartwarming it is, to see young love blossom. She has an intelligent look about her, you are very fortunate, Whately."

Randolph looked on the photo himself, feeling warmth inside, for the first time since he had left London. "Yes, I am. In fact, we-"

Teiwaz interrupted him, "I will take the estate. It is to my liking." He started to rise, fumbling with something around his neck, beneath the robes.

Randolph stared for a minute- he hadn't expected it to be that easy- before rising as well, pulling various contracts and forms out of his suitcase. "Oh. Well, that's fantastic! In that case, you'll need to-"

"You misunderstand me," Teiwaz turned, holding the centerpiece of an amulet, which was studded with rubies and other gems. It glimmered, glowing softly in the dim light. "I said, I will take the estate."

Randolph stared into the amulet, transfixed. There was a flash of light, and all was silent.

Teiwaz turned the amulet to himself, as it began to glow brighter with an unearthly light. He turned to a mirror, and admired his reflection. The wrinkles which framed his face began to fade, and color returned to his hair. His features, which had been angular and guant- more like a wolf than a man- had softened. Teiwaz picked up the picture of Elizabeth and Randolph together, comparing it to his own new face. It was an almost perfect match to Randolph's. Teiwaz smirked, and spoke in perfect English. "Thank you, Mister Whately, for your services."

Randolph slumped to the ground, or at least, what was left of him. A leathery corpse, devoid the life it had held moments prior. His suitcase fell to the ground next to him, popping open and spilling its contents. Teiwaz let go of the picture of Elizabeth and Randolph, and it fell. For a moment, it hung in the air, before landing on Randolph's silent chest.

Teiwaz stepped outside, discarding his red robes for clothes he had taken from Randolph's suitcase. He took a deep breath, enjoying the fresh air for the first time in years. He held up a small burning candle, and snuffed out the flame with a quick breath. The oppressive fog cleared as if it had never been there at all.

Teiwaz stood alone on a hill, the castle he had inhabited a moment prior had vanished as if it had never been there at all. From his position, he could see a village down the hill, not far at all. The prospect of a journey to a new land sparked new life in him, to match his new face. He placed a hand around his amulet, feeling its warmth. He did not want to make this journey on an empty stomach, so to speak.

The wind blew violently, cackling in glee as Teiwaz descended down the hill, ready to leave a trail of silent husks in his wake.

«Chapter 1.1: Husk | Foundation Gothic | To Be Continued »

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