Actually in the fireplace
book in claw
not saying a thing, just reading, and all I could do was sit there in a slumped state, blood leaking out of my neck from its slash wound, waiting to see if it could be bothered to drink me at some point
and the flames
didn’t affect it in any way
not even a slight flinch of discomfort
which was fine, really, as fire wasn’t the key to this, the thing in my jacket pocket was, if I could muster up the energy to lift my hand up and
a blue laser shot into the room
missing the creature, the Krsnik, by a metre and a half, then expanding, thickening into a bar of light that wasn’t blue anymore, it was
but something to illuminate the décor and show more of
Sila woke up looking at the floor.
Most of his body was still on the bed, but everything above his chest was hanging off the side, as if he’d already tried and failed to get up and this was the compromise.
Still in the castle, he thought, before lifting himself off the bed and looking around the room.
Yup, same bed. Same balcony.
It was hard to say what time it was based on the window light alone as outside looked grey and wintery, so he fished his phone out of his jacket pocket and felt instantly bleak when he saw quarter to two in the afternoon staring back at him.
Mountain time, he instructed himself, putting the jacket on and heading for the door.
Assuming I can make it past security.
The spiral staircase and the corridor on the floor below were both empty, which was odd but not conclusive as maybe guards didn’t come this far up.
However, when Sila reached the fireplace room from the night before and heard no sounds at all, from the corridor or the gardens outside, he started to panic.
No, not panic exactly, it was closer to anticipate, the idea that he’d finally stumbled through a dimensional portal and landed brain intact in a deserted castle.
Wasn’t this one of the old dreams?
He walked to the window and examined the layer of snow on the garden below, a layer on another layer, no footprints in sight, no tourists either.
‘You are alive again,’ a familiar voice said from somewhere behind.
Sila turned and almost laughed when he saw the Count decked out in a deep crimson cloak, accompanied by a ridiculously high collar and foliage hair.
‘As you can see, it is a day to stay indoors, I think.’
‘And the whole city?’
‘We will visit the library, peruse some of my vast collection of literature and YA. Though the latter is quite sexless, unfortunately.’
Sila pulled the collar of his jacket up and headed to the double-door.
‘You cannot go outside,’ said the Count, making no move to stop him.
‘I have to.’
‘Did you not hear me mention the library?’
‘There are things I need to do.’
Sila paused with his hand on the door frame, not the handle, scanning the Count’s lunatic attire. Tell him. Don’t tell him. He might know something about it. He might think I’m insane and put leeches on me. Or attempt an amateur lobotomy.
‘It’s personal,’ Sila said, finally.
‘Ah, your feelings. Fine, then you will at least let me feed you before you leave.’
‘You have food here?’
‘I mean…do you eat?’
‘Come, there are some things laid out already in the kitchen. I think you will find it quite modern. The last visitor I had brought a microwave with them. And a device that warms bread in less than two minutes.’
Sila pushed his palm into the frame of the door, understanding on some level that he had to pull, then deciding that food wasn’t a terrible idea, he hadn’t eaten for almost a whole day, and, as he walked closer to the Count and saw the details of his cloak, the little patterns on the thread, he realised that wasn’t terrible either
he half wanted one himself,
only in a green colour.
As promised by the Count, the toaster did warm bread in less than two minutes, though it was a bit disconcerting to see that the brand was the same one Sila’s grandma used to have.
The kitchen itself was impressive, a combination of medieval and contemporary, with a fridge, washing machine, electric stove and microwave all given enough space to breathe and function and ask themselves internally, what the hell are we doing here, isn’t this a castle?
Sila had the same question in mind, but each time he tried to ask the Count, he would get fobbed off with a tangent, or a long stare at the wicker doll pinned to the far wall.
After finishing off four slices of bread with Wallachian jam, plus two blood oranges, he sat down on the chair opposite the Count, blocking his view of the doll, and asked him four times in a row, why is there no one in this castle? And a rejoinder: why is there no one outside?
The Count took the longest sip of his coffee then put his eyes on the dalek salt shaker in the middle of the table.
‘I do not know about outside matters.’
‘What about inside matters?’
‘Inside the castle, ja. Indeed it is a dispirited place. I will not deny that.’
‘That wasn’t my question.’
‘But with another soul here, like yourself…do you not feel the air is already slightly warmer?’
‘Why are there no people in here?’
‘The walls too…not so distant it seems.’
‘Where are all the tourists?’
‘Ja, it is an odd effect. Perhaps it is only I that can detect it. Tourists? You mean from other countries?’
‘Finally, you respond. Yes, people from other countries. Where are they?’
‘I do not know. It has been a long time since I’ve seen anyone. Only you, the Chinese girl you travel with and the occasional tramp.’
‘She’s not with me.’
‘No? You seemed to be very close yesterday.’
‘Yeah, we were arguing. I was telling her to go away. And when exactly did you see us anyway? That was in the castle, with other people around.’
‘She is not your paramour?’
‘Were you secretly hiding in the-…’ Sila stopped, noticing the Count’s fingers wrapping together. The occult code for manipulation. He turned and looked at the microwave, the shitty brand name stamped on its side. ‘Why can’t we see any tourists in here, this castle?’
The Count looked down at his own fingers and unknotted them. ‘It is probably for the best. The last I heard China was in a precarious state. Den Ping betraying his friend Mo and empowering the merchants. Of course, I may be out of date on this. If there is any news you have on the matter…’
‘I don’t know much about China matters,’ Sila replied with a caustic bite.
‘Then other countries. I myself have a soft spot for Pakistan, Iran, the Swahili States…I forget their modern name. Tell me about those places.’
‘You mean Kenya? Or Tanzania?’
‘They speak Swahili so it’s probably right. I think they’re doing okay. Still under the thumb of what you call the merchants, western energy companies. Chinese now, as well.’
‘A great pity. In my era, they were Muslim strongholds, a great trading zone. Many different cultures mingling together without murdering each other. Until we came along to ruin them.’
Sila opened his mouth to say ‘huh?’ but decided it was probably too provocative and just looked at the Count’s collar instead.
‘At least that is what I’ve been told. Perhaps by revisionists. To be honest, it is difficult for me to have confidence in my own opinions. Everything comes from another source, one which I cannot verify.’
‘Things haven’t changed that much.’
The Count played with his fingers again; not making a lattice, just flicking at them. ‘Even in my own era, I was forced to rely on others. Outside of this castle…Bohemia, the Ottomans, what was truly taking place…I couldn’t know.’
‘You didn’t travel?’
‘To my doom? Ha, of course not. My reputation was built on my castle, my land. Leave for even one day and someone would take it. Visit another province and I’d have my throat slit during the night. Survival required stagnancy, an entrenched base. With a well-oiled torture apparatus.’
Sila flinched, looking away to the fridge.
‘It was, of course, a different time. And the torture machines…aren’t in the best condition. Ah, you are just like Petr…shying away from the realities of life. It is a positive attribute in some ways, I suppose.’
‘Didn’t you torture Petr?’ asked Sila, turning back and looking the Count dead in the eye.
‘There it is, the spark. Ja, I did. I tortured him. I had little choice. Though I doubt I would do such a thing now.’
‘You can’t, he’s dead.’
The Count turned sharp as an owl, the height of his collar blocking his reaction. It seemed as if he were focusing on the microwave, but Sila knew there was nothing to see there.
Okay, maybe back off a bit, he told himself. Torture machines are still around this place somewhere. Don’t wanna end up strapped to one of them.
‘It is meaningless to dwell on that past. Tell me, young Sila…have you travelled far in your life?’
‘To which places?’
The Count noticed Sila’s hand creeping over to his jacket pocket. ‘You have a purpose?’
Sila pulled his hand away, picking up his cup which was half full of lukewarm coffee. He studied the spots of milk bobbing on the surface, wondering if it were congealed, out of date, if the Count actually received the milk in person, whether or not he’d understand something mystical like the Professor of Dark Light.
‘By your recalcitrance, I assume it is something abstruse.’
‘I don’t know that word.’
‘Perhaps more abstruse than myself and this castle. Or the talking green mist I encountered when I was a child, telling me to murder those above me. Or the winter witch in the impossibly spacious cave who warned me about the machinations of the merchant class.’
Drinking some of his coffee and forcing it down, Sila weighed up the pros and cons again. He may understand. He’ll laugh in my face. Those were the two main ones and, looking at the Count’s outfit again, he decided to regret later and just go for it.
‘Okay, here it is. A few years ago, I was a cultural theorist, not doing much with my life and…’
After telling and editing and retelling and apologising for the fragmented nature of the whole thing, Sila leaned back in his chair, looked at the Count’s hands and waited for his reaction.
It didn’t take long.
‘I have heard this name before, somewhere. Professor of Dark Light…’
‘But I cannot recall where, or when.’ He knitted his fingers together, slowly, carefully. ‘In my library, there is most likely a book on this topic. Come, I will show you. We can search together.’
‘Will it take long?’
‘No, no. I have an excellent cross-referencing system. Designed by Veronika, in fact. Many centuries ago.’ He drifted off towards the wicker doll, detaching his fingers. ‘She was talented at that kind of thing. Very skilled.’
Sila used the break to check his phone. ‘I have about four hours, then I’ll have to head back to the hostel.’
The Count switched back on, rising to his feet and pushing his crimson cloak out at the bottom. ‘Then we should start immediately. Come, follow my trail.’
In Sila’s head, he imagined a library from 19th Century set horror films, the aristocrats cultivating their books on the occult and symbolic gardening and Plato and other, less esoteric subjects they could show if the police turned up
Count Kurzsan’s lair of words was a segmented affair, carved up into six alcoves, each with two bookshelves.
Apparently, two of these alcoves were reserved solely for occult matters, which the Professor of Dark Light fell under, and the key words they came up with for the referencing were: occult weaponry, dark light, occult furniture, possessed furniture, ritual sacrifice and insane artists who killed people.
‘Green blade or green knife might be a good search topic too,’ said Sila, pulling out the signature blade from his pocket.
‘That was the weapon given to you?’
‘It looks almost Sumerian. The patterns on the handle.’
‘You’ve seen it before?’
‘I do not remember. Possibly. But it is too much to bring back. We are best served sticking to more generalised words first, see what can be exposed.’
Sila slipped the blade back in his jacket pocket and waited by the tiny ladder as the Count scanned the books on the top shelf.
After stacking up a pile of about forty, they both sat down on long semi-sofas, and started reading. It was a silent endeavour at first, with Sila struggling with the old German used in a text called the Hocken Manual and the Count engrossed in an old Persian classic that Sila couldn’t even read the title of, but after an hour or so, they both caught each other’s eye at the same time and decided to discuss what they’d got so far.
‘This has a chapter on a teacher who trapped malevolent sprites in wardrobes,’ started Sila, tracing his finger along the relevant sentence, ‘then ate them out when town planners were nearby.’
‘I think I may have translated it wrong.’
‘Old German is difficult for modern readers.’
‘What have you got?’
‘A tale about a Jinn who wanted to have sex with the man who controlled him.’
‘Are Jinns related to Professors of Dark Light?’
‘In detail, no. Though they did play with humans. In this case, I believe the Jinn got his way and shared the bed of the man for seven years. Then castrated him when he converted to Islam. Hmm, a religious polemic, I suspect.’
‘That doesn’t seem related at all. We need something closer to Slovenia, from Slav mythology maybe.’
‘Then I suggest these texts,’ said the Count, picking up five new books from the floor and handing them to Sila.
‘I should probably go.’
‘It is not yet late.’
Sila checked his phone. It was just past six. The hostel technically didn’t close, he had a key to get in, if he wanted to go back. Maybe tomorrow would be better. Tomorrow night. Or the day after.
He put his phone away, and looked over at the Count. His cloak was off, and the black shirt underneath was reminiscent of what Gian Maria Volonte used to wear back in his prime, not too tight, the top button undone to show the lower slope of his neck, almost the top of his chest…
‘It is your choice of course,’ said the Count, running his left hand along his belt then shifting to the new book in his hand.
A few hours later, with the light from the windows replaced by the eerily steady flames of the candles, Sila put down the third book he’d attempted and closed his eyes.
Things had started to blur about half an hour earlier, and he hadn’t said anything, but now it was unsustainable.
Just a few minutes, he told himself.
Maybe piece together some of what I’ve already read. See if I can connect the Hocken Manual to the diary of the healer Maud Mudface, the occasional references to the emerald spear, emerald being green and green being what he had
and Maud talked about carpentry too
said it was a pagan art
that if you opened a certain trunk, made by a certain carpenter, the right number of times
then a demon would appear
and it would taunt you until you did what it requested, which was usually sexual in nature
pretty basic sex to be honest
not the kind that a real medieval tyrant would perform, if he had his eye on you
which was more likely the more innocent you were
not so grubby
like Petr on that bed, half hanging off the side, while Kurzsan pushed himself inside his ass, blade in hand, holding it ready in case he got bored of fucking like a normal-
A gust of cold air blew in from somewhere, forcing Sila to spasm almost out of his chair.
He opened his eyes, seeing a blurred figure holding a giant white cloud.
‘A pillow for you…’ said Kurzsan, pushing the white thing that wasn’t a cloud onto Sila’s lap.
Blinking several times, Sila checked the rest of the room, saw the lit candles and tried not think what time it was.
‘…if you cannot make it to your bed.’
Sila looked at the pillow, resting on his thighs. Next to the shaft of his dick pushing hard against his jeans.
He opened his eyes moon-like, reading the open page of the book on the floor. It didn’t work. He was still hard.
Looking back up, he saw the Count staring down at him, stroking his belt again.
‘Are you going to bed?’ Sila asked, not sure where the question had come from.
‘… … … … …’ replied Kurzsan, bending down and, without even the slightest hesitation, kissing Sila’s bottom lip.
In historical terms, with all that he knew about the man, the Petr and Veronika stories, the torture apparatus, there should’ve been resistance, but
wasn’t he repentant now?
didn’t he deserve some kind of forgiveness?
just a tiny bit of non-violent sex play?
Kurzsan moved down to Sila’s neck, pulling at the skin as he kissed, pushing his cold hands down Sila’s chest, his coming soon abs, and onto the stem of his dick which had doubled down on its hardness and was now just about ready to fuck anything vaguely nearby, most likely Kurzsan if he got that belt off and
‘… … … … … …’ said the Count, pulling his hand out of Sila’s jeans and backing off to the bookshelf nearby.
‘What’s wrong?’ asked Sila, pulling himself up and holding out a hand.
‘Consequence,’ the Count said, in a strangely distant voice, and then walked off towards the door.
Sila stayed where he was, waiting to see if the Count would return, watching the candles slowly burn out. In his head, the familiar litany cranked up, and his hand edged into his jacket pocket.
Cold handed Count.
Bastard raped Veronika.
Murdered people in the dungeon.
Avoids direct questions.
Kisses violently, like a Klingon.
Just fucking walks off on you.
A few minutes passed and Kurzsan didn’t appear. No noises from out in the corridor either.
Lucky, thought Sila, picking up the book from the floor and reading a line. The man was a monster. Tortured people. Probably manipulated me into waking aroused so he could take advantage of my delusional state.
That’s what had just happened.