Candle in the Dark

by Robert Burson

Pain for the Mother.

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I'm trying something different, but I don't have any particular reason for the shift in style. I just felt like shaking things up.

Gazetteer - organization: Knights of the Axe
Sadistic paladins who live to inflict pain and torture on their captives. They serve the Saint of Pain.

Spreading the fire of conviction and superstitious fear.

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Gazeteer: The Village of Corax
A village far from Sceptrum in the Dutchy of Leoninus, deep within the Gorgos.
Exports: silver, ore, wood

Burn, burn, burn, heretic.

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Saint of Fire, Ignis
Element: ash
Commonly depicted as: blazing knight of blue flame astride an ashen steed wielding sword and spear.
Scripture: Saint Ignis was once a mortal knight responsible for the death of a pale and malevolent youth of a warlock named Obitus.

The Malleus Ignis is the hammer against darkness but they wield a spear?

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They ate around the family table. Mother served the soup. Bowls of steaming carrots, onions and broth heaped with meatballs, ladled in sloppy splashes from the pot. The savory smell of the soup, lemon and meat, filled the small room. Charlie tried not to look at Cole, where he sat at the head of the table. Where he sat in father’s chair.

Mother had insisted. Pating the seat and cooing as they gathered to eat. They were almost the same age, Charlie just two winters shy. Cole’s family were not farmers. They had never worked the earth. Never raised crops; never raised food or fed others with the sweat of their brow. Never slaughtered a lamb, hung it in the larder, and minced it into meatballs for sour soup. Father had described the villagers of Ostium like insects feeding on the blood of the farmers.

Cole smiled at him and raised his brandy glass in a mock toast. Strawberry brandy brewed from the berries his grandfather had planted. The brandy his father bottled before he died. The same bushes that died out last winter.

“I need to get up early for the planting,” Charlie looked down at his untouched soup. “I think I’ll retire.”

“As you wish.” His mother poured more brandy for herself. “Not going to finish your supper?”

“I ate in the field.” His stomach growled and gave his words the lie, but he picked up his bowl and carried it into the kitchen for the dogs.

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Cole was waiting in the door as the sun sank low in the western fields.

One arm leaned up against the frame, shirtless and without his smock, Cole was visibly muscular from working his father’s smithy. His long hair was wet, as if he had just come from bathing or had dunked his head in the trough in the barn. His dark eyes glittered in the fading light and he smirked.

Charlie’s jaw clenched and he nodded a greeting as he walked up the path. He set his tools down on the porch and kicked the mud off his boots. He could smell the tangy aroma of sour soup cooking from inside, and his stomach growled in response.

“Charles,” Cole intoned solemnly. “Your mother has soup ready.”

Charlie looked inside. “What’re you doing here?”

“Just visiting.”

Pushing past, Charlie found a bubbling pot over the fire in the kitchen. In the parlour, his mother lay on their divan, sipping a bumper of brandy. Her hair too was wet, as if she had recently bathed.

“Charlie, dear,” she sighed, “did you finish the planting?”

“Almost. Tomorrow.”

“What a good son.” Cole was behind him.

The stranger’s footprints had been swallowed by the mud in Charlie’s head.

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The stranger appeared on the edge of Ostium, among the fields of wildflowers.

She was tall and bent from the pack she carried, wrapped in a worn greatcoat that had seen too much weather. Her hair was what first caught Charlie’s eye as he bent over the fields. It was glistening white, like the castle he had seen as a boy up in Vasa Alba. Like ice caught in the sun.

Where was she from? Her direction said Gelum, the big town a good walk up the road. Her coat said she had likely been on the road awhile. She didn’t really look like someone that belonged anywhere to Charlie. As she got closer, he looked down to his work. Best not to seem interested. He didn’t want the wrong sort of attention. Best if he kept his eyes on the row of cabbages he was supposed to be planting before the last spring frost.

It was a cool day, but sweat trickled down his neck, sliding down under his smock. Not many folk came to Ostium. Not even many merchants bothered. Much further north from the capital and you’d end up covered in mud and swarming in demons and the dead. No one saintly wanted anything to do with that nonsense.

Charlie tapped the last seed in with his trowel and straightened. Using his scarf to wipe the sweat from his neck, he surveyed the road for the stranger. She was gone. He felt something in the pit of his stomach sink with regret as he saw tracks leading toward the fields on the other side of the road. She must have turned off to the Limus fields for shelter. They’d happily offer a warm bowl of mush and a cold bed in the barn.

Her hobnailed boots left deep tracks along the road.

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His head, bloated and swollen with rotten seeds like the pumpkins in the graveyard above. His eyes, burning with the same flickering crimson fire of the tomb lanterns. Lips peeled back and rotted away across a row of yellowed teeth that flashed as the Baron laughed. Laughed even as she plunged the stolen dagger repeatedly into his gut. A shrill sound of metal scraping on metal. Too high pitched for his bulky frame. Punctuated unevenly with an odd clicking as if something was catching in his ruined throat.

Belua looked into the lanterns and laughed.

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Assorted notes on Hell
* Hell, Infernus, the Smoldering Lands
* A place of blackest darkness and eternal (blue) fire where the dead souls go.
* Resina, the lake of burning brimstone.
* There are physical portals to Hell located beneath the ancient capital of Aurum.

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"Midway upon the journey of our life,
I found myself within a forest dark,
For the straight foreward pathway had been lost."
- The Inferno, Dante Alighieri

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Lilies, both black and white, are a symbol of the Saint of Death. Often used to mark graves. Such graves are called a lilium.