a short story series by lawton von emelen
The hair on Adam’s arms stood straight. He was frigid. Rubbing his hands together as fast as he could, he wished they’d catch on fire f rom the friction just to warm him.
He stood among the dead trees, withering leaves barely clinging to the branches. Leo stood, or rather towered, over Adam to his right, and seemed displeased. Recently, he always seemed displeased. Adam was nearly convinced that was Leo’s default emotional state now.
The three trees surrounding them were the only ones standing at the edge of a decently sized cemetery. The tombstones’ details were indiscernible in the dark of midnight, save for those illuminated by fire-light near the center of the cemetery. Four braziers illuminated a gathering of hooded figures, surrounding a central tombstone, some of them wielding menacing bludgeons.
If it weren’t for The Gambler’s golden eyes, Adam wouldn’t have noticed his presence approaching them from his left.
“This should be fun,” was The Gambler’s only comment. He had broken off from Leo and Adam to scout the surrounding area, seemingly turning up nothing.
Have a plan?” Leo asked The Gambler.
“Not really. We don’t entirely know what we’re dealing with here.”
“Yes, we do,” Leo disagreed. “These fringe cultist groups who have seen Godsbloods think they can drink in our power. We know they operate at night, we know they know of us, we know they won’t tell anyone else and we know that they gather at cemeteries for rituals in attempts to raise Godsblood souls.”
Adam looked horribly confused. The Gambler furrowed his brow and fired back. “Thank you for the obvious, Leopold -”
“Leo,” corrected Leo grumpily.
“-on the matter. What we don’t know is whether they’ve actually turned up something useful or not.”
“I don’t follow,” said Adam at last. He hoped The Gambler would give some semblance of a coherent explanation.
The Gambler sighed softly. “When a person becomes a Godsblood, their soul becomes a more prominent entity. It’s no longer dormant. A Godsblood’s soul and their mortal form are the same being, but in two different forms that can act independently.”
“Can the soul be seen, then, on this world?” Adam asked.
“Yes. Its corporeal form takes the rough shape and silhouette of its mortal, physical form, and glows a lustrous gold.”
“Aha! So there’s a theme with the gold, then,” Adam reasoned.
“Yes. Now, Leo, as I was saying, the likelihood of them actually having discovered something important is miniscule. I don’t even know why we’re here.”
“Because it could be important,” Leo replied. “They could have something.”
“I doubt it.”
Throughout their conversation, all three men were too distracted to have noticed the cultists beginning some sort of chant. It was quiet, low, though droned on and on. They spoke incoherent words and phrases, none of which were English or any language known. The Gambler, Leo and Adam finally noticed this when the cultists, equipped with bludgeons, began to hammer away at the exhumed stone casket they encircled. Cracks ripped through the stone after every smash. After at least a baker’s dozen worth of blows, a golden luster seeped through the cracks.
Leo looked proud of himself while The Gambler’s face fell. Adam gazed in a dichotomy of wonder and suspicion. “Is that…?” Adam began to ask.
“It seems I was right,” said Leo, astonishingly calm.
“A first time for everything,” The Gambler quipped. “I’m glad you’re glad you got us into this mess we’re about to create.”
Leo cracked his knuckles. “Time to intervene.”
The Gambler swept to the side, dodging through tombstones while Leo barreled forward like a bull toward the cultists. His eyes shone brightly; he began to run faster, as golden light trailed his full-on sprint. The cultists noticed this too late. They attempted to scatter as Leo launched himself into the air. With a mighty crash and a bold grunt, he slammed both his fists into the ground just shy of the exhumed casket, pounding two cultists into small craters of force.
“I’ll just stand here, then, in the background?” Adam asked no one in particular.
“Oh, alright then.”
The Gambler picked off stragglers with his magical cards as Leo brawled within the center of the group. The cultists were frantically howling and shouting. Some knelt, praying before quickly being felled by Leo’s brutal haymakers. The Gambler’s cards zipped through the air, slicing and dicing his targets by following orchestrated motions conducted by The Gambler’s hands. Other cultists attempted to flee, crying out “The souls will save us! The souls will save us!” The Gambler’s cards ended their pleas quickly.
Unsurprisingly, Leo and The Gambler failed to notice that the golden light emanating from the cracks on the casket shone brighter and brighter. The lid of the casket began to tremble. Adam attempted to point out this crucial detail to the two. “Gentlemen!” Adam cried. “It’s… the… the thing! The light! Something’s happening!”
Leo knocked a soon-to-be-dead cultist thirty feet away with an unforgiving kick before responding to Adam’s cry. He turned to the casket, which then exploded in brilliant light that illuminated the entire cemetery. The cultists that remained moved about in their tattered cloaks, looking much like wraiths. The light began to take a corporeal shape, at first hands with fingers, then entire arms stretching out like they belonged to a being who was awakening from a long slumber.
She began to take shape quickly in front of their eyes. The Gambler directed his attention to the figure, distracted so much that a few stragglers managed to actually escape and flee into the surrounding fields. A head rose next, followed by the shape of billowing hair, then a slender body; finally, she stood above the casket, standing taller than Adam but not Leo. The form of luster only showed shapes, not details, and it was hard to see where she looked or gave attention.
After a few idle seconds, a sweet female voice echoed through the minds of the three men. “What have we here?” Her accent was most definitely British, a classier alternative to Leo’s own accent.
Leo and The Gambler looked at each other with the most mordant expressions. Adam looked as mystified as he usually was.
“Of course,” said The Gambler. “No one but the most venerable Annalise Windsor could attract such a following.”
Everyone could feel the smile she wore, though no one could see it. “You’re too kind,” she said directly to The Gambler.
“Been a while, Anna,” Leo greeted humbly.
“I’ve missed you, Leo.”
“Would someone mind filling me in?” Adam asked.
The Gambler snickered. “Adam, this is an example of a Godsblood soul detached from the body. This is Annalise Windsor, an old friend of ours, whom we separated with a century or . . . well, over six centuries ago.”
Adam bowed lowly before Annalise, who responded with a giggle. “Thank you,” she then said.
“Annalise, this is Adam, whom Leo and I have taken on as our pupil.”
“You’ve chosen him to ascend?” Annalise asked for clarification.
“Yes,” The Gambler replied, eliciting a bewildered stare from Adam. “Don’t look so confused, Adam, you’ve known this for quite some time.”
“I knew you were teaching me more about these ethereal magics. I didn’t know I was to become one myself.”
“It’s actually intriguing, really, how coincidental this played out. Annalise, I remember the last objective you were given by our mutual mentor. Did you accomplish it?”
“Yes, but I doubt it’s of use to us now.”
“It was probably moved during the two centuries I’ve been imprisoned here.”
“How were you imprisoned?”
“The time travelers.”
“Of course! We really need to give them a better name,” The Gambler said, stroking his chin. “‘Time-travelers’ doesn’t really make me feel ‘Ah! We’re in danger!’ Only something more like ‘Oh, yeah, I guess they’re kind of a nuisance.’ I suppose they worked some sort of warding mechanism into the stone?”
“I don’t know, but whatever it was, it doesn’t work anymore.”
Good then!” The Gambler turned to Adam. “I thought this would come much, much later, but I’m afraid time has begun to run short, and pieces are falling into place. We may need to hasten your process to ascend.”
“Hasten?” Adam asked, raising an eyebrow.
“Yes, hasten. Focus, Adam.”
“As soon as we find the necessary tools, you will ascend.”
“To become a Godsblood, as you three are?”
The Gambler nodded. “If only we could transport you properly, Annalise. I apologize, we hadn’t expected to run into you tonight.”
“Quite alright. I suppose Adam will serve as a fun vessel.”
“Wait, what’s that?” Adam asked. Before he could react, Annalise’ lustrous form accelerated towards him through the air, dissipating upon contact with his body. Soon after, Annalise’s voice rang more loudly in his mind. “The things we could do together!”
Adam looked positively flabbergasted. “Is she inside me?”
“Yes and no,” The Gambler replied. “Well . . . sort of . . . not really . . . kind of . . . what do you define as ‘inside?’”
“Relax yourself. This has happened before, with others. You are not the first and you will not be the last.”
Adam nodded slowly. He didn’t feel any different.
The Gambler smirked. “A fine ascension you’ll make, Adam. Seems like you were born for this, like the rest of us were.”
Leo nodded. Adam nodded as well after another moment of pondering.
“Does it matter if I’m ready?” Adam asked them all.
“Not really,” The Gambler replied.
“I was not either. It kind of just happened.”
“You will be ready when it happens,” Leo stated.
Adam didn’t feel assured, though it didn’t seem to matter, for The Gambler began to walk toward the trees. “We must get back to work. This whole cultist-Annalise-rendezvous was fun, but the time-travelers are still at work sabotaging the Bristol line. I wonder if we can take them?” He looked back at Adam once he reached them, and offered his swashbuckler smile. “I’m liking our odds.”