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Writings > Short Story > Fantasy

The Red Gauze

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The Eighth Letter
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Kachha Muchha, Meccha Kuchha

              
 The procession shall began at seven, when the sun sits obediently at the horizon, as it burns, and it burns brilliantly and stubbornly, refusing to hand down the throne of the sky to its alternate. The stars had begun to shine brilliantly, as if teasing the leaving sun, whose light will no longer blunt their own precious lights. The line of mistresses and masters, all decked in meticulously put together ceremonial dresses, lined the path when the gong master swung their baton, and the caddies and slaves scurried, trying to hide themselves before they are seen. The once very noisy street immediately grew gravely silence, only the sound of the torches filling the air, empowering the stillness. None of the mistresses and masters dared raise their eyes, and when the sound of instruments began filling the air, replacing those of torches’ flickers, the master and mistresses quickly changed from living human, into still statues.

                What an odd ceremony, thought a man, as he sat on the swaying willow tree’s branch, his back against the hundred-years-old trunk, his eyes closely fixed on the path lined by the masters and mistresses, at the starting point of the red-brick paved path. He did not see anything at the beginning, just hearing the arrival of something so revered, that was capable of turning living, breathing humans into still statues, but as the painful seconds ticked away, one by one, very slowly and very surely, a mass ensemble of humans bearing red lanterns emerged at the end of the red-brick paved path. There were musicians, dressed in absolute whites, four of them, heading the procession, followed by six lantern bearers, and next a group of uncountable number of what seemed like ladies dressed in, again, pure white robe, faces covered by red silk scarves. He recognized them as priestesses. The group of priestess procession passed the tree he was sitting in, until a pedestal held upon six carrying poles emerged out of nowhere at the end of the path. At the cue of the coming pedestal, he gathered his attention and prepared himself.

                His prey, had finally appeared, he thought. A prey as assigned to him by his commanding guild…

                The man, with flowing black hair tied at the back of his neck and eyes so cold and so sharp it’ll cut through one’s armor eyed closely the coming of his prey. There, that creature that was hidden by the mass layer of white silk…whose only silhouette was visible to him. His order was ‘exterminate the creature held on the pedestal’. It was a high-profile mission, entrusted only to those who held considerable amount of the guild’s confidence and of course, an officer who held a certain level within the guild’s hierarchy. To have him embark on solitude mission on a foreign land truly spoke of the importance of the mission. No men of the guild will travel alone in performing their duty. It was a policy, a legacy to ensure the outcome of each assignment, for the task bestowed upon them was never something to be taken care of lightly. For him, as someone who sat among the high councils of the guild, trust was not quite an issue…

                To kill someone…

                He bit on his lips. On the vessel he travelled on, he had studied the nature of this isle, the custom, the belief, the people, the ritual, so this mission he shall be embarking on will begin and end with very little disturbance. He had read how the people of this isle revere the incarnation of their God, embodied in chosen ones, from generation to generation. The chosen ones may be a man, but in majority they are women. He had read how this isle had remained almost detached from outside, how they shunned modernity, how they be about rejecting foreign ideals. He had imagined it all, but reality was odder. He was surprised by about everything he saw, he touched, he tasted. It was an amazing place, with citizen being closed, they avoided outsiders. They do business with them, and it stopped there. They sell, and they leave. He had found the truth about the state of the island’s inhibitors’ relation to the world outside to be bitter. Those who dared to disobey the unwritten culture rule will be punished, and there exist only two sort of punishment on this isle;

                Imprisonment or death…

                What rigid society, he thought, as he licked his lips. He tasted apple, and remembered the red jewel he ate while on his way to this place. It was delicious, far more delicious compared to any apple he had ever tasted. And he remembered the woman who gave him the apple. She wore a magnificent red and gold silk robe, on her shoulder, red cape made of red gauze embroidered with the image of a dragon. He did not see her face clearly, for it was dim and the light coming from the torch was unusually restless, the flame danced and twirled until it cast such uneven shadow upon her face. The chance encounter was brief. She found him lurking by the tree, a type that was similar to the cherry blossoms but instead, the flowers burned with the color of the fire. He was shocked, surprised, afraid of being discovered, but she reacted by offering him an apple. The woman disappeared behind the sea of the trees with blossoms the color of the flames, and he never saw her once, not even from the first moment he stationed himself on this tree. He didn’t realize it from the beginning, bit from since he had been looking, and his eyes had been scanning the picture before him for any sign of her. She couldn’t possibly be missed. Those robes were too unusually to be missed…

                The man slapped his face, forcing himself to snap into attention. He grunted. He couldn’t believe he actually lost concentration over an apple. It was an unbecoming for someone of his standing and quietly he could feel a thin layer of blush creeping across his face. While he was busy trying to negate the amazingly overwhelming feeling brewing within him, his fingers managed to find its way to his lips. This action, without his reaction remained for some time when the pedestal passed by the tree he was hiding in, and into another compound with ribbons and sacred ropes as the area’s fences. The bearer gently lowered the pedestal onto the ground under the most spectacular tree with the unusual flaming red blossoms. As when the pedestal touches the ground, the wind blew, and the blossoms trembled, those who failed to withstand the force clattered and shattered the petals off the branches, falling down, and scattering, turning the landscape orange and red. The wind blew with it the white veils covering the pedestal, and he saw, he finally saw a little more of the silhouette. One bedecked in white and red. He saw the sides of the silhouette, the face, only though. Small lips, firm nose. A woman, perhaps. Yes, a woman, most probably. A majority of the embodiment of god had been women.

                His prey…

                When the gong was beaten, his fingers were on the hilts of his daggers. It was his cue. The master and mistress with most intricate robe stepped forward and pulled the silk veils, revealing this particular living goddess. He confirmed the gender of this matter of reverence with a slip of fingers that caused the dagger to slip by his fingers. The dagger fell, and fell, and he, with all his agility he tried to catch it before it land, before it gave clue to his position, only to have it slice through his fingers. The blood spilled, the cut was painful, but he couldn’t sell himself to his emotion. It was only by instinct that he twirled his fingers around into the fabric of the front of his shirt, his eyes quickly turning to look at the creature that surprised him. His eyes squinted, and his vision sharpened. When the creature stepped out of the mass of white veils, his surprise was confirmed.

                The lady with red silk gauze…

                And his jaw dropped, his eyes widened, and his fingers crept to his face. The air he smelled next was thick and odd, with the smell of something burning mixing with the faint smell of blossoms, sweet and coal-like, now invaded by the rustic scent of the blood oozing from his fingers. The blood, yet to stop, stained his face, running in thin lines on his face, on his lips, into his mouth, surprising his taste buds.

                Blood.

                Mixing with the awfully faint taste of the apple.

                The lady…

                The master and mistress who welcomed her lead her to another sitting place, something like a throne, only that it was a natural formation of rocks and roots and branches intertwining together, covered by remnants what was the fiery red blossoms. She sat there, very gracefully, and the retainers left her, and rejoined the lines they came from. In a single unison, every creature called men there bowed before her, and she, very slowly and very carefully removed her veil. He stared, and he stared without blinking his eyes, without realizing how he had returned his other dagger into its sheath.

                The lady…

                The man blinked twice, again, again and again, as he just sat there, staring at the lady sitting alone on the nature-made throne, as the master and mistress remained in their bowing posture for the longest, longest time…

                The apple…

                ~             

                It was very late, when the masters and mistresses left. He remained there, on the tree, unable to move, unable to comprehend himself. The living goddess had retreated to a small hut just behind the massive tree, alone. The priestesses, the musician and the retainers had disappeared. The torches were dying, and the wind blowing, but with the dimming light from the flames, the fiery blossoms seemed to have glowed even more vividly. Shadows were claiming the place, and the red-brick-paved path was no longer so brilliantly red. For once, darkness triumphed against the light, and only with that he slowly climbed down and found himself standing in odd position. His eyes were set on the small hut, his fingers resting on the hilt of his daggers. His mind had regained control over his senses and the logic, and his determination and ego told him not to fail that one mission. This mission. To murder that goddess, and end the absurdity of his isle, their ambition…

                With that one surety he paced toward the hut, his daggers unsheathed and pain in his fingers, his palm, his hand, completely ignored…

                He will not fail.

                He will not let his reputation be disgraced…

                One step, two step, three and four, and the distance closed in, one feet, two and three, and as he stepped closer and closer he realized how his composure and his fingers trembled, his breath hurried, his attention and his eyes growing blurred, growing unfocused, hazy. One step, two step, and he was already right next to the northern walls of the hut. He sighed. His fingers grasped hard, tight of the hilt of his dagger. It felt warm, not cold, like it used to be. Not firm, but slippery. His palm was sweating, sweating terribly. He gathered his strength, ready to break in, ready to sneak in, to claim the soul hidden within the partitions of the wall. He was going to…when…

                A shadow. And a voice, “Please, Lord Azrael,” and he was forced to turn around in his defensive stance, to find himself looking at a woman…a very young woman barely in her adulthood, with long, long black hair trailing behind her, covering her ears, covering her cheek, covering her forehead, covering her shoulders. Her eyes, a pair of jewel with no sure color, glowed magnificently under the dying crimson light of the torches. She held out her hands, and very slowly, her silk-scarf covered fingers reached for his leather jacket, pulling him toward her, toward the entrance, and finally, into the hut. As if charmed, he followed her deeper into, and sat on the cushion served where she had signed for him to sit. His dagger found its ways on the stiff boarded floor. Very gently she placed a piece of white silk square and arranged three bowls next to the square’s side. With one very gentle move, she took his cut hand and placed his palm onto the silk square, and yet with that they barely touched. With a pair of what seemed like a short chopstick, she began cleaning the cut, cleaning the dried blood, cleaning the debris of the woods, cleaning the grime that he caught from the hilts of his daggers. It stung him, but he was too stunned to have acted the pain out.

                “Lord Azrael,” she muttered, which again brought him into a state of attention. Azrael wasn’t his name, not his given, not his alias. Even for that, no one could’ve known. He came here under another alias, with another identity. His mission was to silently and briskly the seed of discord, a source of turbulence. And Azrael wasn’t any name either. Could it be that she had known of his intention from the beginning of their chanced meeting? “Lord Azrael,” she muttered again, to which her words were followed by an action that shocked and surprised him endlessly, greatly. With one very smooth movement, she unsheathed a wood-hilted dagger that he had previously failed to notice, inverted the blade and had the holder face him. His fingers trembled and his eyes widened, and in that very stand they remained still and quiet for moments, until when she broke the silence with another small gesture that put a red silk gauze on his knuckles, before gently pulling his fingers and palm toward her, onto the hilt of the dagger that she held by the blade, with her right hand. When she was certain he was grasping the hilt well enough to have held it within his own hand, she tied her long flowing hair with a piece of black gauze and gently bowed before him, letting him see her long, slender white neck, as if surrendering her life to him even without him asking of it. He trembled at her display of invitation, his lips tightly closed, his brows in an awful knight and his eyes wildly searching for clues; any clues that could tell and explain to him the reason for all this behavior.

                “Lord Azrael,” she muttered again, barely audible, under her breath, her face still on the floor, “I have seen you in my seeing dreams, and I have read you from the wind and the fire’s tales, one that foretells me the final demise of the Oracle of Fires, one that will claim us into oblivion and stop this absurdity, the ambition of fire.”

                A pause.

                “We had known of your coming a thousand years ago, Lord Azrael. Yet we the Oracle of Fires, and I, the embodiment of this bloodline for this generation had kept your news at bay and away from our people. For long we had known how they mistreated our premonitions, us, our ability, yet with this we own so little power to not be a part of this evil,”

                Another pause.

                “We, God’s creature blessed with abilities, had earned the God’s wrath, and that wrath, as foretold and said in the dreams of the Oracles, will come to destroy us, and my defiant people, in the form of a man said to bore eyes of sword, hair of midnight.”

                Yet again, another pause.

                “That man, an angel of destruction, a claimer of soul, a ripper…Lord Azrael…befit you, o’ dear savior…” she added again and again, “And I, the 120th descendent of the Oracles, had been honored by your visit,” and with that, that man, of whom she called Azrael, immediately dropped the dagger, like a jackknife he sprung to his feet and stared at her with eyes full of contempt, full of confusion. Realizing the sudden turn of even, she held up her face and for the first time, they came eye to eye. Her eyes, so deep, so very deep, was staring at him, into his steely silver eyes, emotionless, void, yet calling, asking. He realized fully his standing, how he was not to ask any question, how he must not stop even a single second to ponder upon the sequence of event. His heart was throbbing for words, while his head raced for explanation. For a moment they stood there, in their stead, in their seat and stared at each other. The man with steel eyes and midnight hair could only grimace in silence, his injured hand quickly reaching for his mouth, like always. He realized that it smelled of apple; and when his tongue touched his lips he tasted the same flavor that had kept his logic and control all messed up. He grunted in disgust. Had he lost his mind, finally? He had never felt so messed up before, never, not in any situation, not by his prey, not even by woman, but what happened, that he had failed to accomplish his mission even when his prey was offering her life with very little struggle.

                “My Lord, Lord Azrael,” she said, her fingers picking up the dagger and she again ushered it, hilt first, to him. “Make haste. I wish to spend not a second more on this pitiful isle, this sinful world I belong to…”

                He had never had anyone offering his or her life so openly and so freely to him. Not a woman, especially.

                “Why?” a word escaped his trembling lips. “Why do you not fear me?” he asked his voice in bare whisper as he lowered his hand and make available his face, for her to see again. “Why do you not fear death himself?” he asked again, his voice slightly louder, courser, emotional than his first word. For a moment the woman stared at him, eyes full of wonder, full of curiosity. She finally seemed alive.

                “Death doesn’t have to be fearsome, and you, Lord Azrael, is far from fearful…” she replied him, still staring deep into his steely eyes, still ushering the dagger to him. “My Lord, your presence had been known by the master and mistresses of this land. If you do not hurry, you might never get this chance again. I beg you…” added her, her eyes suddenly round, her voice suddenly laden with haste, her composure greatly affected. “I beg you, my lord…!” was the last word she muttered when a noise people rushing toward their location interrupted the stillness. People. He remained quiet. There were a few of them. He closed his eyes. One, two, three. Five. No. There was more. Seven. No. Fifteen at most he decided. The living goddess grew even more panic, as she grabbed his hand, with her hand still covered with the red silk gauze and forced the dagger into his hand, “Please, my lord!”

                “If you had wanted to die, it will be easier if you do it yourself, and that will save you the pain of waiting!” he noted, slightly annoyed. The living goddess seemed surprised. Quietly she took the dagger and placed it onto her neck, and creased the blade onto her neck’s skin. There was no trace, yet she dearly put a considerable amount of force when she did that. His jaw dropped and his eyes wide open again.

                “I would, if I could. My lord, we are called the living divinity not for nothing. Only you…” she said, as she again returned the blade to him, into his hand, and with one grasp, pulled the blade toward her again that it stabbed her chest. The blade went in, and blood began flawing the pure white silk robe. He was greatly shocked that he unknowingly let go of the blade’s hilt and the living goddess fell onto the floor on her side, her eyes sill staring at him. “Do you understand…only the Lord Azrael is capable of severing our vessel…” she said, her voice a bare whisper as she tried to negate the realistic pain that was beginning to invade her body. The man opened his mouth, about to say something when the door burst open and a group of men in full armor the color of blinding gold, sword without its sheath stood at the doorway, their face laden with fear. Their eyes quickly averted from the sight of the foreign man and onto their object of reverence, and to the man again, when they decidedly raised their sword and stormed in. That man with steely silver eyes had nimble step. With one leap he avoided the charging warrior, turned around with a single step, pulled out his dagger and slipped his blade between the paper-thin opening of the helm and the chest armor, aiming for the neck. A scream, he pulled out his dagger, and he was already on toward the second opponent. When he felled four, enough to cover all available standing space in the hut, the warriors stopped charging and he stopped killing. “My Lord,” was what she muttered, very weakly, which earned his attention. The living goddess turned to look at the warrior and tears slipped from her eyes.

                “My dear people, this shall be the end of all sins that we earned…” she muttered with a faint smile, and with that they eventually removed their face cover. One among them, who donned the fancier armor among others, stepped forward and pointed his spear toward the intruder with steely silver eyes; its blade barely inches from his face. “Lord Azrael…has descended upon us…”

                “My people will not perish in the hands of some fake god coming from a fake prophecy,” was what that man said as he lunged forward to stab the intruder. His attempt was futile, when the partition wall on the east collapsed by a single slash swung by the man with steely silver eyes.

                “You are correct. I am not the god or angel said in your prophecy, but indeed I came to wipe your clan off all this absurdity and ambition,” was the last thing the intruder ever said to that man when he dashed forward and began tackling one by one of the warriors that had specifically came to perhaps kill, or apprehend him. One, two, three, it wasn’t difficult for him to deal with the visitors, all the way until the fifteenth men, all of whom soul was repeatedly taken by him, and the sixteenth men managed to slash his back. He realized that these warriors, despite their slow movements, packed strength, and that single slash actually threw him away, back into the hut where he was trying unconsciously to distance himself away while racing against time…

                Racing against time?

                Since when…?

                Racing against time, under what purpose…?

                Attention and concentration greatly disturbed, he received another slash on his legs, which sent him flying, finally landing on his back. The pain was searing, terrible, and he could really feel blood gushing out of the wound on his thighs. It was terrible. He had never felt so disgraced; ego greatly tainted the way he did then. Given his reputation, his position in the guild, this shouldn’t have happened. Handling ten, twenty opponent had never been a problem of sort. Why…

                “My lord…”

                That voice.

                “Lord Azrael,”

                He opened his eyes. There lay the living goddess, chest still bleeding. The dagger still there, still on her chest where he stabbed her and her face appearing very pale even under the flickering crimson light of the torches. He realized truly how life was seeping out of her little by little, moment by moment. He felt his heart quickened, and a certain part of his body aching, throbbing. His finger unknowingly defied his body and mind’s intention, when they crawled for that certain part, and their eyes met. Those dying eyes…

                He realized. He was racing against time for…her.

                “You…shan’t succumb here…with us…”

                The remaining warriors now charged toward them, sword held high in the air, all aimed for the intruder.

                “…my lord…!”

 

                He squeezed shut his eyes, his teeth gritted together as helplessness devoured his entire body. His consciousness sunk deeper and deeper…into an unknown abyss, until he remembered something. A distant remnant of his many memories; a voice that repeated a phrase he would normally have completely forgotten. A phrase describing the moment of transition of life and death…

                They say, upon life and death, a living creature was given a split second chance to completely overturn the situation and make it be according to the soul in question’s favor. Life, or death, was indeed something fated by destiny, but destiny in it is was far from being just cruel. This chance…a decisive split second chance for the soul to make amend of the mistake that leads to their possible demise…was proof of destiny’s kindness, and it will then depend greatly upon the soul whether to grab, or to just ignore this gift of second chance. Yes, second chance. A split second chance to choose life over death, or death over life…

  1.                 He saw, a flash, before his eyes. A silhouette. A woman. He did not see her eyes but he saw her lips. She was smiling. She was saying something to him; ‘Not yet.’ It was muted message. No voice, but he understood the gesture.               Who was she? He didn’t know. Then her lips moved again. He repeated before her. ‘Not my fate’. He repeated again, ‘Not my fate’, again, and again and again…

                ‘This is not my fate…’ he chanted. He realized. He realized. He realized that he didn’t want to die. His body was cold, numb, but he didn’t want to die just yet. Not now. Not yet.

                “Intruder, perish…”

                ‘This is not my fate…’ he chanted again, like a mantra, his fingers grasping his chest. A throb. His heart was throbbing. He could feel his own breath. Hot. Not warm, but hot…still hot, not yet dying.

                He opened his eyes. He saw the golden swords above him, there, definite, albeit blurred.

                ‘This is not my fate…!’ he chanted again and again, as his eyes bore deep into the goddess’ eyes…

                “My lord…this is not your fate…” she whispered, her finger…finally her bare fingers…reaching for him. He saw…clear pearls appearing at the corner of her eyes. Tears…? Her eyebrow was in a tight knit. She coughed, and blood spilled out from her mouth. She was in pain, life sapping out of her…

                “This is your fate, intruder…”

                ‘This is not my fate…’ his conscience repeated, and he feels, he feel, without interfering, as his fingers crept to his waist. He felt the cold hilt of steel. Of metal. Ah. Finally. It felt cold, not warm. His fingers began working. He was losing grasp, losing conscious. His fingers were working, frantic. One buckle, two, three. Five buckles….ten...cold steel between his fingers…cold…against his skin.

                “This is not your fate, Lord Azrael…” he heard her, yet his eyes now closed, tightly closed. He felt warm liquid wetting his skin of his thigh, his back, thick and warm. Blood. He was bleeding, he thought. Without his conscious’ consent his arms stretched apart, fingers flexing. He screamed, of pain on his back, pain in his legs, of unknown reason, of the throb in a part of his body, unknown cause, and the pain in his soul, his ego, resultant of confusion, of rejection, failure. When his arms swung inward, he screamed again, louder, pained, it robbed him his strength, killed his sense of reality. He felt the cold steely sensation leaving when his arms closed, and an odd sound, gasps of airs noise ensued, and screams. Hideous screaming of pain…men screaming…

                “This is not my fate…!!” one scream escaped his mouth, he opened his eyes, and everything turned red. He saw red pearls, all flying, glistening, falling and breaking upon contact, staining the walls, the floor, the roof trusses, the furnitures. He saw swords flying, falling, free falling, the hilts free from grasps. One fell next to him, barely missing his outstretched hand, two made it far enough not to even harm him. Moments passed and silence returned. His body was numb, his mind empty. He stared at the ceiling of the dimming space within the hut, and found his eyes blurry. Cold tears formed a tiny stream down, down, from his eyes. He realized he was crying and decided to stop caring for his ego. He tilted his head and he saw the living goddess. She was smiling…she was really smiling…and she was smiling, her fingers resting on his shoulder.

                “It is not your fate…” she said very softly, very weakly. He saw her lips. Pale, almost blue. Her entire robe drenched. The dagger was still there on her chest, obediently sapping its victim’s life. He gritted his teeth and that unknown body part throbbed again. His conscience whispered to him, and he decided, it was time he forget his ego, forget his status, forget who he was, forget what he was…

                With pain, he grabbed her fingers and found it to be cold, despite his own fingers completely lacking sensation. Numb. Numb and lifeless. He looked at her, and smile ensued. It happened too naturally it surprised him, and he whispered, “This will not be your fate as well,” and before he could grasp the words that escaped his very lips, his body jerked upward, up to his feel, his pain died, and his hands reached for her. One scoop, her in his arm, he stepped out of the collapsing hut and he, with her in his arm, disappeared into the deepest shadow, into the sea of magnificent tree with blossoms glowing the color of fiery fire…

                That final sight eventually became the conclusion of the isle’s devious long history. Without their divinity they perished into nothingness. The goddess was freed of the curse that bound her to the isle. She finally discarded the red silk gauze that had separated her from reality, eventually freeing her heart. The man, for the first time in his long carrier as taker of souls, failed his mission. He did not kill her, neither did she died. He, in the end, finally learned the meaning of the unknown throb in his body. It was his heart, one that he had thought to be long-lost.

 

END

~

               

Author’s note:

This is a freshly written fiction. Pardon the grammatical errors. This story had yet to be proofread by anyone u_u

Ah. I regret not having the space or time or means to describe the reason for the massacre, but if I did that this will definitely defer from the setting I was hoping it will have. Now I’ll leave it to you to make up the reason why it calls for such drastic race termination.

This is actually a spin-off of a painful set of memoirs I’m writing since 2004. This one tells the story of one of the characters in greater detail. His name, of course, is not Azrael. The woman’s name was set to be *warning spoiler* Jurin. I tried to put her name somewhere, but up until the end, I phailed spectacularly and…oh well, in the end I just called her living goddess. I think I need to stop giving name that describes the character for once and just use normal names instead. Urgh.

Anyways. Thank you all for reading.

 

Previous short story:
The Eighth Letter
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Kachha Muchha, Meccha Kuchha
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