Tattoo: The Books of Glory

a webserial about people who are not like us

Tattoo Book 5, Part 2.10

Posted by harmony0stars on January 18, 2010

Raising her voice, Glory called out to the occupants of the still open cells as she walked towards Ehecatl. “If you want to leave this place then come with us into the tunnels. We’re not certain if or where they reach the surface, but wherever we end up, at least it isn’t here.”

The ghoul wordlessly cocked its head in her direction, but its companion seemed content to remain where it sat. In fact, it seemed downright lethargic, its stomach distended by its meal. It leaned back against the wall, eyes closed as it burrowed its toes into the headless corpse. Glory couldn’t decide if its attitude was typical of its kind or if it was simply that fatalistic after being a prisoner for who knew how long.

It was impossible to say if anyone would follow her, but she had to at least try. Part of her, the voice of reason perhaps, hoped they would stay in their cells and wait for Professor Scott and his people to come down and lock them back up. These creatures were the stuff of legend for a reason… either they avoided human contact or there were so few of them that they didn’t usually come into conflict with people. Would they flee back into obscurity or stick around to plague the people of Arkham. Well, once they were in the tunnels and safe from any hidden cameras, she’d remove her cloak. Their reaction to her might give her some clue as to how they would react to other humans.

Though she hadn’t set out to free all the prisoners, after seeing how the ghoul was treated and Murdock‘s little slip concerning Tanith‘s death… she’d be a hypocrite if she didn’t at least extend the possibility of freedom to them. Sean’s death filled her with guilt, but he’d brought at least some of his fate on himself. It was only a matter of time before one of his victims managed to punish him for his sadism as Tanith had obviously tried.

She cringed at the sound of snapping bones and opted not to look back at the ghoul boy. If he followed her into the tunnels, she’d do her best to get him in contact with the ghouls of Sybar City and hopefully they’d reign in any behavioral quirks he‘d picked up. Somehow, she’d track them down. Whatever Professor Scott’s beliefs to the contrary, she did not believe that they regularly kidnapped or chowed down on the homeless, and so far as she was concerned, if they were raiding cemeteries, they were welcome to it. A body could be resurrected through necromancy, and though she hadn’t happened on an actual ritual yet, she’d rather be eaten than have her secrets dragged from her in death.

Professor Murdock had opened five doors out of the twenty cells lining the hall, and Glory couldn’t help but wonder what monsters lurked behind the doors she’d left sealed. Just as she was about to call out again she was brought up short by a charred head appearing from one of the cells. Small flakes of flesh drifted away from the skull like ash as it turned its head in Ehecatl’s direction and then towards her. Glory couldn’t tell if there was even any flesh left on the skull or if she was looking at blackened bone. Nose, ears, lips… had all crumbled away at some point, and only his eye sockets glowered a dim red as if the space where his brain should be was full of hot coals.

He slowly stepped from the cell and into the hall, moving jerkily as if every movement came at a price. A minute trail of ash settled on the floor as bits of his body fell away with each step. His bones were literally wrapped in flesh turned to jerky by the heat of whatever spirit animated the body like a manikin. It was impossible to even say if he had been a man or woman, though for some unknown reason he seemed masculine to Glory. His hands were little more than blackened claws, fingers permanently bent from the fire that it seemed to keep contained by force of will. She was surprised he could move at all without his tendons snapping the emaciated bones of his legs.

With a satisfied meep, the ghoul went galloping down the hall, missing her by mere inches. As if coming to a decision, the cinder-man turned in her direction as the boy passed him. Twitching like an automaton, he made his way towards the body. Was it her imagination or did he pause, turning his head inquisitively in her direction as he passed?

The heat of the cinder-man was like a furnace. The quilled Thing paid him no mind as he knelt by Sean’s body, though it did pull its sucker-covered toes away from the corpse to scoot a few inches away. It seemed to do so indifferently as if to say it was done with its meal and didn’t care about leftovers. For the first time it seemed, the cinder-man took a deep breath, and the sleeping embers of its body were suddenly fanned to life. He leaned over what was left of Sean, opening his arms wide as if to embrace the gore.

If the man had been furnace-hot when he passed her, he became an incandescent star as he performed his strange ritual over what was left of Sean’s body. The air around him shimmered like tarmac on a hot summer‘s day and the inner recesses of his body went from red to white. Within seconds, Glory could feel waves of heat blow past her, each one hotter and dryer than before.

The organic mass that had once been a man named Sean didn’t catch fire so much as it seemed to disintegrate under the fiery onslaught, bursting like a puffball whose spores danced only momentarily in the air before being sucked into the cinder-man’s body like moths to a flame. When there was nothing left but an ugly black scar on the warped metal plates of the hall, the cinder-man carefully stood and came back in her direction, his gate marginally improved. His head did not look much better than it had when he first set foot out of his cell, but he seemed to have gained some kind of sustenance from the literal consumption of the body. Though he still resembled little more than a blackened skeleton, his limbs at least seemed more… robust, more capable of getting him from point A to point B.

He stopped purposefully as he reached her, swaying slightly and seeming to look directly at her despite her cloak. “Kiiinn,” he rasped slowly, leaning closer to her as if he could see her with his empty sockets, his voice crackling and hissing like a fire. Sweat sprang up on her skin, surprising her nearly as much as his words. She couldn‘t remember the last time she‘d perspired. “We… go… home… now… to… Cthu…gha,” he wheezed, pausing between each syllable as if it pained him to find air to speak. Without waiting for a reply, he continued his unsteady trek towards Ehecatl.

Something fluttered deep inside her like a bird in a cage before irritably settling down once more. She shivered despite the overwhelming heat that still lingered in the air. The cinder-man’s words confirmed her suspicions, though she doubted he’d tell her more if she asked. After all, he hadn’t really been speaking to her. At least the sword seemed uninterested in his proposal to ‘go home.’ She got the distinct impression that it was more annoyed than eager to follow its kinsman.

to Book 5, Part 2, page 11

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