Chapter 19 – Harbinger (Part 1)
A storm struck on the night Sarah was bound for death, and there was just a little something that set this storm apart from any other. It should’ve been the type of weather that people would remember for years.
In the north, just beyond the great wall, outside of Northern City…
Mark slumped in the hair behind his desk, his attendants had already fled the room at their first chance. He sat drinking whiskey to keep warm. The persistent chill that troubled him was not caused by the storm raging above them but by something else entirely, something he himself could not explain that rattled his heart. He had known Sarah his entire life, and after her injury he had stayed by her side the entire time, now his heart felt cold. An inexplicable cold that left a shiver in his bones and at his core, giving him a sense of foreboding. His father had been assassinated, his mother in childbirth and every other relative had fought bravely in the war and died just as bravely too. That honor he’d once felt at knowing his family had died for a cause had slowly turned sour of the years leaving him nothing but regret and a distaste in his mouth at the thought of the meaninglessness of their deaths.
A hand drawn portrait of his mother and father before he’d been born lay on his desk, right next to one of Sarah. He gave them both a deep glance before he tore himself away. The rumbling of the storm came again giving him the strength to focus on something else entirely. The storm itself and not the feeling in his bones.
Dwelling in that feeling for a moment once more, a knocking at the door startled him with just as much relief at another distraction as surprise for being so distracted. “Sir… Lieutenant Markwell.”
He knew that slightly high pitched and worried voice. It was one of the few men he still trusted. A young man still in his twenties with potential to become someone of equal position as himself.
He could hear the nervousness in the man’s voice through the door and didn’t respond. He had a feeling. That foreboding feeling from before making the situation play out before him much the same as he’d already imagined.
“It’s Janet sir… She has returned from the healer’s home… I’m… I’m afraid it’s…”
The man couldn’t finish his sentence but he didn’t have too. Janet was Sarah’s maid. Her most trusted “person’ in the entire world. The woman served her like a queen, whenever he himself could not be by Sarah’s side it was her that held her hand and told her madam that everything would be alright.
Now she was here. Not with Sarah. Nothing more needed to be said. Mark knew.
“Fact is… The storm exacerbated her condition… The lady said the healer did all he could to save her but that… Well I don’t have all the details sir but… She passed on sir. She passed on.”
Mark brought the cup to his lips and drank more of the whiskey as he listened. Then, if only for a slight moment he felt a vague semblance of a feeling similar to relief. Relief she was dead. Relieved the most important person in his life, the last woman or person that still kept him tethered to humanity was now gone. Another piece of him taken away.
“You can leave now First Sergeant Lars.” Mark eventually replied. It was a small service to the man at the door. Even as a slew of feelings began growingly overwhelming, he still acknowledged how awkward and uncomfortable the man on the other side of the door likely felt at this moment. The fear of having to tell his commanding officer, particularly himself this sort of news.
This was a mercy. He would let him leave with his job now done. ‘Perhaps it’ll be the last mercy I perform’ he vaguely wondered as emptiness ate away at him.
Mark couldn’t tell when but a pounding at the door woke him up from his stupor. “OPEN THE DOOR NOW MARK.”
“Give me 5 minutes.” Mark responded in slurred words.
He was drunk, and he needed to get to work, to face the world, to do his job, and maybe he was going to make some mistakes that cost his men their lives. Perhaps it would mean the end of his career, the destruction of the last slivers of his reputation, but he just didn’t care. In fact he anticipated this catastrophe with a perverse longing.
He pulled on his overcoat on top of his uniform when a peal of thunder crackled in the sky making him stumble slightly. He frowned as the entire floor reverberated from the lightning. He looked at the window, the only window in this makeshift study. Dry snow swirled against the glass. On more than one occasion had he been under or through thunder in a snowstorm, though nothing quite like this. Nothing that sounded quite as menacing as this.
Lightning flashed again, and again but now he was prepared for it. Falling snow filling the ground outside the window, inconsistently light and so at odds with the storm above. Mark stepped out of his room to a crying woman, he couldn’t even look her in the eyes. A grieving woman.
She was screaming at him, bearing her soul. He tilted his head slightly, a little surprised. Not by her words, her anger or the sorrow present in every action, in her eyes that told a story. No, surprised that her yelling wasn’t giving her a headache, ‘Perhaps the lightning has numbed me to noise’ he wondered.
She continued to scream, to yell, to vent but he the words seemed empty. He could hear, but he didn’t hear. Without even noticing, his hand had already snaked around her throat.
‘Oh’ his only thought as he recognized that without his intent, he’d already crushed her windpipe. Realizing his ‘mistake’ he had the decency to gaze into her eyes as a small light slowly seeped away. He didn’t have to look at her chest, hands, or anything other than her eyes. Her eyes let him know when all of her life had slipped away, when her life ended.
‘Nothing’ he noted as he felt nothing from her death. He didn’t think too much on the matter as he walked away. Someone would clean her up, move her body, dispose of it. He didn’t think about it, it was done.
Lightning flared bright enough to sting his bloodshot eyes as Mark stepped through a passageway outdoors. The thunderclap was so tremendous that it seemed to cover the entire sky. Everything encompassed by an overwhelming natural force. Two more thunderclaps peeling the sky white as a bolt of lightning struck a massive tree down, only meters away from Mark as he made his way through the snow.
A slightly disoriented Mark trudged his way through the crunched snow under his boots. Oblivious to the lightning, to the tree that had fallen so close, so close to have injured him only moments ago.
He made his way to town. He was close. When he’d had his temporary residence commissioned he’d had it made outside of the town limit but close. Sarah had wanted to be close to everything, and he’d wanted to oblige her request but safety had won out. So he compromised and had it built close, but far enough away.
He made his way to the healer’s house, and he couldn’t remember by the time it was all done. He had bits and pieces of the slaughter than took place. There were tears, screams, blood and gore.
He’d killed at least two women, ‘Sisters? His sisters? Maybe patients?’
He was certain he’d killed the healer. He was sure, he was also reasonably sure he’d killed everyone who’d gotten in his way and everyone inside.
He sat outside the house. He couldn’t go back in but he couldn’t leave.
It wasn’t the indiscriminate slaughter, the blood or the gore but rather Sarah’s body. She was still inside. It was her body that had made him stop, given him a sliver of his sanity back and forced him out of the house. All too late though, as he could feel with his mana that there was not a living soul left within, not anymore.
He couldn’t leave, not with her there. He couldn’t stay, not with her there. So he stood. He stood outside the front door, snow falling on his clothes against the skin of his face, cold and slight numbing. Blood dripping from his finger drips onto the snow that had already accumulated on the ground. Thunder roaring overhead.
He stood. Waiting. Unsure for what, but he had a feeling. A feeling that something would come, something would soon happen.
The storm raged on above. Staring up at the sky with the snow falling on his face Mark felt disoriented by the blazing sky, the thunder and wind bellowing. Mark abruptly felt drunk for the first time that night, He wondered to himself how much the bizarre electrical phenomenon was real and how much of it was his own mind playing tricks on him. Anything to distract his mind from the emotions he was keeping a shut lid on.
A chain of electrical bolts stuck down on the street around him. Destroying buildings and causing small fires to begin. He stared in awe at the fear of the survivors of these freak occurrences running from their homes. Dragging their loved ones bloodied and bruised to safety. He was in awe by the celestial display of power, drawn by the storm.
‘So much destruction. So much pain. Everyone is in pain… I am not alone.’
The snow falling harder his thoughts were stirred by First Sargeant Lars standing by his side. Normally aware of his surroundings at all times, with his heightened senses he only felt surprise by the sudden intrusion.
The lightning and thunder above so bright and loud that it drowned out the screams of agony around them, the destruction of perhaps the entire town.
Finally, the shouting was loud enough. Loud enough for him to hear.
“SIR! WE HAVE A REPORT! THEY FOUND HER! THEY FOUND THE GIRL!”
It took a moment for the words to sink in, but when they did… He knew exactly what they meant, who he was talking about…
‘They found her… They found them…’
His voice was weak, hoarse, barely a whisper in the midst of all the chaos but Lars responded as if he heard, perhaps by coincidence but he responded: “Eastesp City. She is in Eastesp City sir!”
He had not been sobered by the terrifying explosions, the thunder, the shouts of agony and pain, his own actions or the world crumbling around him, but these words. They struck a cord.
The numbness receded, and in its place a hot burning anger, a hatred so deep that it reached his bones took its place.
He didn’t shout, or lash out. It was a slow burning anger, a hatred that calmed him, steadied him. That cleared his mind and gave him purpose.
His mind cleared, his emotions leveled, and that anger and hate centered him.
The world responding to his emotions seemed to calm. The lightning, the thunder, the atmosphere steadied. A storm had come, and now it was all of a sudden gone.
The sky quiet. Lars unable to meet his Lieutenants eyes, his teeth chattering against one another. Not due to the cold, but fear. A primal fear that made him cower without fully understanding.
Mark stood up, steady as a rock as he walked back to his makeshift house. Every one around him, in his path moving out of his way out of instinct.
Only one building remained in this small little town outside and just past the wall. The one Mark had been previously leaning on. Lars didn’t look around but the wind rushed past, the snow the one thing still unaffected, still falling. The wind blew the door open and it wasn’t the sight, but the smell the forced Lars to look up. To see the carnage within. Lars turned his head immediately, not making eye contact with what was inside. Hand to his mouth to stop himself from throwing up, he took a few moments to steady himself. To think about the situation, and his position.
“Private!” he called.
Two men, two soldiers that he trusted and had brought with him responded in tandem immediately. “Yes sir!”
Lars pulled the door back and removed his belt and tied it to a post to keep it from opening on its own again. “Burn it down. Burn the entire house down. Do not look inside, do not let anyone in.”
Lars didn’t waste a moment longer as he followed his Lieutenant.