A Falling World: Chapter 5 Part 1: Mourning and Hate
Torrance lay on display for his family and friends to say their peace. There was a line waiting to pay their respects that Richard looked at from above. This wasn’t the first viewing that Richard had been to and through experience he learned it was best to pay his respects from a distance – while Torrance may have accepted what he was that didn’t mean his friends and family did and this day was for them. So he paid respects from above keeping his eyes covered.
Even from a distance Richard could see every detail with clarity. They did a good job making him presentable he thought. Though none of his limbs were separated from the guardians attack there were a few pieces that came close. As he was prepared though he looked crisp and whole.
Richard was the one to deliver the news to his family. His folks were the silent type – their reaction muted. This was the kind of reaction that was hardest to deal with because of how unnatural kind words sounded. Only the facts of their deaths ever seemed to hit, everything else only came off as obligated platitudes. Richard left knowing that it would be hours if not days before reality would sink in and when it did there was no way to know what they would do.
Other reactions were easier to deal with if only because Richard could focus on something other than recounting a friends death. God I hope I don’t have to do this again a mantra Richards thoughts went through several times already. This day was the only day Richard would be able to pay his respects to his friend. After the ceremony today his body was going to be taken away and incinerated, his bones crushed and whatever was left would be condensed into a rock and presented to his family.
Burials were a privilege allotted only to citizens which Torrance was not. In a few years maybe he would have been given a promotion and allowed to move up in society, but that wasn’t going to happen now. Torrance belonged to the Vaishmin class so he and his family had no say in these matters. Still though it was better than being part of The Under.
So Richard watched and let the proceedings continue without disturbance. Alphonse stood up and said a few words. Richard watched as Torrance’s father approached the podium. Richard couldn’t explain why but there was something especially painful about seeing fathers cry, but there it was. Torrance definitely took after his father, his hair was graying and wrinkles were starting to form around his eyes and hands but the similarities were there.
Later on the captain spoke a few words as well commending his bravery as well as his care and dedication to his community. He offered his condolences to the family and let them know that if they need anything all they have to do is ask and he’ll be there to help.
How many times had he heard these words before? The same speech repurposed again and again? Something shifted in Richards mind after he listened to the captain where the events around him seemed more like a play being carried out by dozens of actors. Another fifteen minutes for speeches, then an hour for food, gossip and sympathy for the family. After that the body is taken away and in a few days time a gem is handed to the family. A well timed and choreographed performance known to bring tears to the eyes. Fuck, he thought, have I really memorized this shit?
When the time was right Richard made his way down and retrieved some food and lent himself to answer any questions people may have. No one had any questions for him though in fact everyone kept their distance from the grimm. Richard hoped the glasses may help calm people but word must have gotten out about who he was. He could feel the stares along his neck as the people peered and whispered.
Richard kept to himself as the events went by. He listened to the conversations everyone was having throughout the room. Some of the conversations were about him by people far enough away to think he couldn’t hear them, but most were about family life. With a few glasses of wine Richard let his senses dull and his concentration fade. He could still make out what was being said and where everyone was but he found it easier to ignore now. As the procession continued he heard an argument break out between the father and a few of his children. Torrance’s older brother wanted to know where he was, apparently Torrance had his demons and there was some doubt about where he landed on the other side.
The brother planned to go to into the fae and visit one of the weak spots in the veil on the isles of Miastra. If he’s not in hell he’d have a month before Torrance couldn’t be summoned. The father objected saying that it is dangerous crossing into the fae, especially for them. They were also already in a tight spot for money and couldn’t afford the time off. The brother objected saying that it wasn’t that dangerous to go – they weren’t one of The Under. Besides, they owed it to Torrance and themselves to know he was at peace and if he wasn’t then -.
Torrance’s brother was cut off by the father “Then what? Do you think we could bring him back? That’s not something we can afford. I love Torrance, but wherever he’s at he’s there through his own actions and we have to respect that. Don’t torture yourselves over him, there’s nothing we can do to change anything – he’s where he belongs.” Richard left before he could hear any more of the conversation.
“So how many does that make now Stitches – five, six?” Basil jeered, “How’d it happen this time? You toss him down a well, turn your back and he suddenly vanished, you finally found a girl to distract ya and let the kid take care of things himself?”
Basil was a large man, especially for a grimm. Most were incredibly strong and lean, a trait that made them nimble and quick witted in unfair fights. Basil however, though slower than any other grimm Richard knew, was built like an ox and still faster than most other species with the stamina to match. His hair was cut short and his shirt was already stained with dipping sauce from his entrée.
Basil was in a slightly different line of work from Richard, instead of towing the line and keeping the peace Basil worked to apprehend fae for a price. He fell in line with tradition and felt the only good fae was dead fae, but seeing how mass genocide wasn’t on the table right now the only tolerable fae was one willing to pay. It’s grimm like Basil that made the fae fear them. They were to the fae as the fae were to the humans – rare and dangerous.
Coming from anyone else, what Basil was saying would make Richard think he was being mocked – that it was his fault that Torrance died, but Basil felt no empathy for the fae whether they were full-blood or mixed-breed. Even then he had only a passing tolerance for humans that dabbled in magic. In his own way he was genuinely trying to lighten the mood, it wasn’t Richard’s fault Torrance died it was Torrance’s fault he died and the world was better off for it. Why not make fun of the bastard and remind my friend that he hasn’t actually lost anything important? Richard knew how Basil thought and while he appreciated his company most of the time, on nights like this, he wished Basil wasn’t the only grimm free. But Richard took what he could get – he clinked glasses with Basil and chugged enough alcohol that by the time he stood up the room swayed and he had a difficult time walking straight.
The next day Richard was back at work when a messenger came up to him to inform him that the captain wanted to see him. Richard thanked the man and when he was ready made his way to Captain Briar’s office.
He sat comfortably in his chair when Richard came in. Briar offered Richard a chair which he took “this is about Torrance isn’t it sir?”
The Captain let out a heavy sigh, “Yes, Richard it is. I read the reports, the way I see it Torrance died because some witch blind sighted you and led you into a trap. I need you to tell me what happened, how did she get past you?”
Richard took a minute to collect his thoughts before responding “Well, she’s human and just learning magic. So new in fact that she couldn’t see me as a grimm. That doesn’t happen very often, so we treated her like a human and were in the process of wiping her mind. She cast a spell and blinded us, and made her way into the guardians realm.”
“Yes, I read the report. I’m asking how she got past you. Even blinded that shouldn’t be a problem.”
“Well –“, Richard managed before he was cut off.
“It was your leg wasn’t it?” the Captain stated more than asked.
The air was heavy, Richard didn’t like how this was going “Yes, it was my leg. When she cast the spell I was in her path and I fell. I left that part out of the report.”
“I thought so, listen that’s going to be a problem Richard because we have a vampire active again.”
“Great, and why are you having me deal with it?”
“Not much of a choice I’m afraid. You’re likely going to see him sooner or later. Stregoika is missing and his crypt is surrounded by bodies. It isn’t hard to figure out what happened.”
Richard paused, taking in what Briar was saying. There are very few creatures that are genuinely immortal. Even gods can die, and in a way so could Stregoika, the veil kept them in the afterlife. Somehow Stregoika found a way around this, he would run amok, die, and return by his own volition – though this took time and his return was like clockwork. “How is he back? We should have at least another twenty years.”
Briar was matter of fact, “We aren’t sure yet. Our best guess is that someone brought him back ahead of schedule. We simply don’t know, but considering your history with him I’m willing to bet he’ll be paying you a visit at some point. Listen, we have a new grimm coming in. I’m putting her on your team. You’ll show her the ropes and take care of this. I also want you to track down that girl from your report. Humans from the other side learning magic is never good and I don’t like how these two things are occurring so close together.”
“Fuck” was the only thing Richard had to say about the matter.
Holly was his new partners name, apparently she was a citizen from a different district. Something must have happened for her to transfer to the Upper North Valley. The answers, Richard knew, were in her file that was in easy reach. He thought about it for a while – the temptation nibling at the edge of his psyche. It was a rare event for fae to transfer districts given the automatic demotion they faced and it was even harder for grimm. Even rarer was for a fae to pair two grimm together on the job. Instead, they usually made an active effort to disperse them as much as possible. It took Richard a fair bit of restraint but he pushed the thought out of his head deciding to let Holly keep her secrets to herself. If she wanted him to know she could tell him herself.
Holly would be joining his team the following day. At the moment she was with Alphonse being shown around the precinct and getting used to the environment. After he was done with scoping out the scene and reviewing the report Richard thought he might stop by and welcome her. However, at this moment in time he had other items on his mind.
Stregoika escaped four days ago and it wasn’t until today that news reached him. His crypt was already cleared and the bodies removed. The most he had to go off was were the pictures from the report which didn’t tell him anything he wasn’t already expecting. The vampire was fast and fed on anyone around before leaving.
By the gods, Richard thought, if everyone with a decent talent for magic wasn’t being prioritized elsewhere I could take this bastard out tonight. Stregoika always awoke deranged and physically weak, more animal than man, but by Richard’s timing Stregoika was probably thinking straight at this point. He would be hiding and biding his time. He would still be weak at this point but that was more self imposed than anything else. Stregoika was a picky eater, choosing his victims carefully – culling only the finest for himself.
Richard shuttered knowing that the vampire was likely out in the open somewhere in the humans realm. He had Alphonse, and depending on Holly’s experience she might know a thing or two about magic. The longer he waited the more dangerous Stregoika would become and considering how he liked to toy with his pray Richard knew he would have to find him first.
Richard returned to his desk to find Alphonse and a girl with a buzz cut filling out a board with a sketch of the girl he saw in the alleyway. When he approached they both stopped and the girl stood up offering her hand to shake. Richard accepted it “Holly I presume?”
“That’s correct, sorry to clutter your desk. I’ve been working with Alphonse to see if there is any connection between Adam and this girl.” Holly stated.
“You don’t waste any time do ya?” Richard asked, “You don’t need to bother, I’ve already reviewed it. There isn’t a connection.”
“Yes sir, but a second pair of eyes couldn’t hurt. You never know.” Holly retorted.
“Well did you find anything then?” Richard asked already knowing the answer.
“No, we didn’t” Holly answered.
“By any chance can either of you track the girl if we go back to the alley?” Richard asked hopefully, but they both answered no. “Fantastic, if we weren’t working on a skeleton crew right now none of this would be happening. Alphonse grab your things, we’re heading to The Under. Holly, feel free to sit this one out.”
The path to The Under wasn’t a street or simply a different part of town. Instead there were stairs placed in various parts of the city that led down. Richard was taking lead with Alphonse and Holly trailing behind. The path Richard chose had only a single destination at the bottom, the stair split off in both directions and hugged the wall all the way down. The city was built in layers and using a different path down would access them but it also provided plenty of opportunities for some punk to attack them and try and run away – besides the people he were looking for were at the bottom.
Not many people moved from one layer to the next in this spot so the area wasn’t crowded but even so there was one deadite already in their path at the bottom. He kept asking if they could hear it. “They’re coming” he repeated “they’re coming for us, their brothers and sisters!”
The three of them walked around the man as Richard continued to lead them through The Under. The architecture was fundamentally different down here. The buildings were built small and sturdy, often supporting other structures. There was a large portion of The Under that was under an open sky, this is where those better off lived, but there was an even larger portion resting directly under the Vaishmin. It was a city built through rock and reinforced throughout with anything and everything the denizens could piece together. It was an endless maze of alleys that Richard led them through.
The further inward they went the more despot things started to look. Holly was familiar with the fae and the borders between realms, but what she was looking at was worse than anything she was used to seeing. There were species here: human, fae, and mixed-breeds all only semi-conscious like the man they saw coming off the stairs. She wasn’t sure if this was the normal state here in the Upper North Valley, or if it was specific to this location. When she asked, Richard told her that this is where the different factions dumped their rejects. Some of them failed to be recruited while others pissed someone high up off.
“They have a sport called Psyball,” Richard explained “basically the fae play it constantly. It toughens the minds and makes it a pain in the ass to get information. Some organizations here will force recruits to play a sabotaged round with someone whose been bugged. If they can protect themselves from it they’re good until they’re promoted and tested again with a stronger version. If they fail they get dumped here. Other times, they’ll use a dangerously strong version and just mentally destroy a competitor or a failure.”
“I probably call it something else, but what do you mean by bugged?” Holly asked.
“Like an intrusive thought,” Richard answered “it can be anything really. An annoying song, a drug problem, a gambling addiction, or a mental disorder. Being bugged only means that there is something about your mental state that is trying to latch itself into someone else’s mind. It’s hard to improve your situation down here and there are a lot of people who take advantage of that, but loyalty doesn’t mean much if you’re going to buckle under a little pressure. There’s a lot of risk to the process but people go through with it to prove themselves.”
The cramped underground alleys and tucked away hovels in the side of the walls gave way to an open space several hundred meters in length and width. In the center was a two story wooden building dimly lit from the outside with a yellow light viewable from the window.
“Here we are,” Richard exclaimed “let me do the talking.”