Chapter 1: Gas Lamps
Saxony dripped with rain. The walls of the city ran with water, dark with factory soot and stained by age. Cobblestones rattled the wheels of the horse-drawn carriages. An angry tom cat screamed somewhere in the night. Gas lamps flooded street corners with pools of yellow light, weak against the lashing darkness of the night.
A man in a top hat, clad in a long trench coat and leather boots stalked down the street. Water ran from the brim of his hat. He carried his cane in his right hand, slapping it occasionally against the palm of his left.
Telos pulled his knees up higher against his chin. In his corner of the street, hidden behind two rubbish bins, he bit his lips. He could see the man, approaching, unhindered by the rain.
Water ran off the end of Telos’s nose. He prayed that it would cover him. Wash away his scent. Hide him from those eyes.
The man walked closer.
Telos drew in a breath and held it. Tears trembled in his eyes. He felt the call of the kin on the man, calling up his nature.
He quelled it, choking on the pain of refusing himself.
The footsteps stopped. Telos buried his eyes in his knees. If now was the moment, he couldn’t look it in the eye.
Telos flinched. Something kicked at the rubbish bins. He felt one of them slid away from his side. A hand grasped his neck and lifted him from the sidewalk.
The hand was strong. Stronger than Telos would ever be. He hung limp in the man’s grip. Water ran off his short blond hair over his face. It ran down his back where he had warmed it against the wall, making him shiver.
The man sniffed. Telos squeezed his eyes shut.
Telos drew in on himself. He’d learn the words; he knew what they meant. The warlock had been certain he of it, before he left Telos on this inhospitable shore. It was a death sentence; the name the Church had given to any but a pure human, a son of Adam. But Telos hadn’t shifted; he hadn’t shown his fur no matter how afraid he had become.
The man dropped Telos to the pavement. Bruised and trembling, he gathered his hands and feet under him to run.
“You think you can outrun me?”
Telos lifted his head just enough to see the man’s face. There was little he could see other than the edge of a flat beard and a strong jaw beneath the dark brim of his tall beaver hat. “Why are you here, Night Child?”
Telos’s heart thudded inside his chest. His nails raked against the pavement. It wasn’t as if he had wanted to come. He closed his eyes, swallowing bile, urging himself not to remember. He tried to open his mouth, but as he had been told, he couldn’t speak of the reason.
The warlock looked down at Telos, trapped inside of the bear cage strapped to the side of the clipper ship. The white sails were full overhead. A light, cold rain drizzled down on his bare skin. Sailors worked the ropes on the forward mast, securing length of rigging under the direction of the second mate.
“To think that the fate of the world could hang on the death of a thing like you,” the warlock said. He took his pipe out of his mouth and reached down to pat Telos on his head through the bars. He smiled when Telos pulled away.
“You think you’re afraid of me now? That collar that keeps you from changing is nothing.”
Telos backed up to the farthest reach of the cage. The man smelt like death. Black soot was packed under the end of his long, unkept nails. His sea coat wafted the foul odor of several different mind altering drugs, including Black Royal towards Telos’s sensitive shape shifter nose. Telos sneezed and then shivered in a sudden gust of wind.
“Are you sick, kitten? Don’t worry,” the warlock murmured, “you won’t die till I’m ready for you to. When I’m through with you, you won’t even be able to speak of me, let alone shiver. Your precious Admiral Dune will be running his hands through the ashes of your bones.” He smiled. “You’ll be out of your misery soon, cat.”
Telos stayed crouched on the pavement. He lifted his lip, trying to snarl. It came out as a strangled cough.
“You shouldn’t be here,” the man said. “Didn’t you read the signs?”
Telos tried to crawl back towards the rubbish bins. The man’s cane hit the pavement in front of his eyes, stopping him. Telos lowered himself to his belly against the wet street. Maybe if he could just prove he was harmless, then this man would leave him be.
“Do you know where you are, night child?”
Telos shook his head. He really didn’t. He’d wandered the streets for hours, afraid to ask for directions, in case someone realized what he was.
“You’re two streets over from the Queen of Saxony’s Palace.”
The nerve went out of Telos. He dropped his face to the pavement. He had been condemned and damned, before he had even known it. It was like the warlock had said. He’d be out of his misery soon. There was nothing for it. The man’s feet moved closer. Telos recognized the coat-of-arms burned into the heel of the man’s boots as it was caught in the dull glow of the gas lamp, the crossed sword and scepter. The man was an enforcer in service of the Saxony queen. Telos had heard the horror stories; the sailors called her a cold hearted bitch in white palace where clerics waited on her table and said her evening prayers. She dressed in gold and white they said, but her soldiers dressed in red and black. The better to hide the blood of their work.
Telos tried to scramble to his feet. A boot crashed down on his shoulders, driving him to his stomach. He struggled, hands and feet scraping for purchase against the wet street.
A hand grasped him by the blond curls on the back of his head. A thumb and fore finger pinched at the skin on the back of his neck.
Telos stilled. His chest fluttered erratically, trying to draw oxygen. His vision faded in and out.
The clipper ship threw down anchor far out from the shore. Which shore Telos couldn’t say. It was somewhere in the Chanel between the Continent and the Isles but that was all he could reckon. The coast was nondescript and everything was layered with low clouds and fog.
Six sailors hoisted Telos in his cage over the side of the ship into a long boat. The warlock and several assistants had followed the cage over the side, using a creaking ladder of rope. The sailors came after with several bales of supplies and then rowed the long boat in.
“Douse the cat,” the warlock said, passing a wet cloth to the assistant sitting closest to the cage. The man had limp yellow hair and muddy gray eyes. He stuck his hand into the cage and caught Telos by the back of his neck. Telos bucked, hard. One of the sailors swore.
“Keep him still!”
The muddy-eyed assistant shoved the wet cloth over Telos’s face. Drugs filled his nose. Telos blinked, hard, shaking his head. The familiar fuzzy sensation rose up behind his eyes. He crumbled forward, down to the bottom of the cage.
“Do you speak, cat?”
Telos tried to nod.
“Please,” Telos whispered.
The man grunted. “Do you know what I am, cat?”
“An enforcer,” Telos whispered. How could he not know. The warlock had made certain he recognized the emblem.
“If you want to live a little longer, cat, then stay away from anyone who carries this,” the warlock sneered. He shoved a poster in front of Telos’s face. They were in a cave. Telos could hear the waves of the sea outside and smell the brine. He blinked through the salt in his eyes and stared at the image of the crossed sword and scepter. He was staked out by his hands and wrists on his stomach, naked against the sand. It was cold. He tried to keep his teeth still against the shivering to hear what the warlock was saying.
“That’s the sign of the Enforcers,” the warlock said. He shook the paper. “They’re the officers of the queen. They serve her and the clerics. If something like you dares to breathe inside her empire, they are the ones who will hunt you down. No trial, no questions, just execution and then…” the warlock paused to smile broadly, “and then they burn your body, to purify the dirt of your flesh.”
Telos turned his head away. The warlock laughed. He leaned forward to hiss,“Admiral Dune.”
A whip struck Telos across his back. He screamed. His head flew up to look at the warlock with confusion.
“Just a lesson,” the warlock smiled. His yellow teeth showed up in the light of the large fire in the middle of the cave. Telos sucked air. He didn’t under.stand. The warlock stood above him. He smiled.
The whip struck again. Telos’s voice rip through his throat, leaving his it raw.
“He loved you, didn’t he, your wonderful Admiral Dune?”
At the sound of the name, the whip struck again. Telos flailed against the sand.
“Admiral Dune, Admiral Dune, Admiral Dune,” the warlock chanted. Each time he spoke the name, the whip tore through Telos’s skin.
“Just think, cat,” the warlock said, hunkering down on his heal beside Telos, “none of this wouldn’t have happened to you, if you’d never met….”
Telos tensed. He raised his face from the cave floor, eyes wide, knowing what was about to happen.”
Telos felt heat and liquid warmth spread like fire over his shoulders.
“Remember, cat. When he comes, remember this, and run. Because if you ever meet him, remember what it feels like to hear his name….Admiral Dune.
The whip tore through thin air.
The enforcer forced his head back. Water from the man’s hat brim splashed Telos in the face. He blinked away the dirty rain. The man’s features were hard. There were lines around the edges of his eyelids and his lips were drawn thin and tight.
“Why are you here?”
Telos stared at the man, large eyes open. He tried to speak. Words clotted in his throat like fur balls. As he had promised, the warlock hadn’t left Telos the ability to speak; not even the dignity to cry out and protest his unwillingness. The enforcer shook him.
“Lost,” Telos choked out, “I’m lost.”
“You know the punishment of entering Saxony for a were creature?”
Telos dropped his eyes. He did. He was damned and Admiral Dune would run his hands through his ashy bones. Telos shuddered and coughed. The man’s boot was gone from his shoulders. Telos tried to draw his knees protectively up against his chest, turning his thin body into a tight ball of shaking fear, trying to breathe through the sickness in his chest. He was amazed that death still frightened him.
“How old are you, cat?”
The man grunted. He dropped Telos to the sidewalk. “A kitten, then. Stand up,” he said.
Telos rose up on his knees.
Telos shook his head. It was too much. His head felt disconnected from gravity. If he was going to die, there was no reason why he had to stand and help the enforcer kill him. He didn’t have the strength to pay the price of standing. A moment of gray uncertainty stretched out unnaturally before his eyes; he crashed back onto the pavement. His head hit the side of the rubbish bin. He tried to roll over, to draw his knees up against his chest, again. His shirt caught on the metal edge of the rubbish and tore open.
The man took a quick breath. Telos forced his eyes open, to see the enforcer’s face. The man touched Telos’s chest, pulling away the dripping wet shirt.
It was there, the great blue mark, the blue anchor with the leering skull mounted onto it’s shaft. It ran from his neck to his lower belly. The ends of the anchor ran out over the slender flare of his hips. Telos closed his eyes, not wanting to see it again.
Telos panted, suddenly conscious. He was still in the cave. But he couldn’t smell the sea. The air was full of the scent of his own blood and hideous drugs. He tried to calm himself; he breathed through his nose and swallowed. He’d been healed, again. His back had mended. The deep ache of muscle and skin bound together too quickly, against the course of nature was deep in his flesh. Once, even twice, you could stem the flow of a wound, Telos knew, from his time with….he dared not think the name, but he knew, from….that other time. He didn’t know how many times the warlock had had him torn open and sealed shut again.
He was stretched in the middle of the cave. This time, he lay on his back. The scent of fire was thick. Fresh fire. He turned his head to the side. The warlock’s assistants were walked a path around him, several paces out, lighting a perfect circle of fire. Telos swallowed. He could feel the heat but the scent of his own blood was stronger.
The warlock approached; he stepped into the circle as the flames met and started to rise in a solid ring around Telos and himself.
“Now, we begin,” the warlock said. He set a wide shallow black bowl on the ground. The liquid inside was blue but it smelled of Telos’s blood and arcane workings. It made the hair rise up on Telos’s arms. The warlock lifted a paint brush made of black feathers. He held it above the blue liquid
“Scream, kitten,” the warlock said. “Scream and call him to you, call your precious Admiral Dune.”
He drew a line down the center of Telos’s chest with the blue potion.
It seared. Telos arched up against the agony. His mouth opened. The potion violated his body; it entered him and soaked into his flesh, searching out the center of his being. Telos felt it lock inside, deep down, inside his chest and behind his naval.
“That’s it, precious,” the warlock murmured. He soaked the brush again. “Call him, kitten. Only his touch will free you, it’s locked to your soul.”
“What…why?” Telos gasped.
The warlock smiled, just a little. “Remember, kitten, remember that he did this to you, your precious, Admiral Dune.” He set the brush against Telos’s hip.
Telos passed out.
He woke with sea water dripping from his face.
“Stay with us, kitten,” the warlock grinned. He soaked his brush again.
Telos felt darkness enter his mind, like a piece of his skull was opening up onto a portal to a nightmare world. The magic was tightening, making him feel like the world was tilting around him. It was leaching onto his his heartbeat, his breath, the marrow in his bones.
“If Admiral Dune touches this mark, the pain will stop,” the warlock grinned. “For you.”
He drew the brush against Telos’s thin chest, starting the outline of a skull. Telos watched; it burned as ever much as it had when it first began, but Telos was far away, standing inside the darkness of the crack in his mind. He watched the warlock paint the blue anchor upright on his chest, and finish it off with the details of a perfect skull set over the shaft of the anchor, the empty nose bone set in the dent below his breastbone.
“Remember, kitten,” the warlock said, lifting a burning torch out of the ring of fire, “the pain ends when Admiral Dune touches the mark.”
“Why?” Telos gasped.
The warlock grinned wider. “The mark will kill him.”
He set fire to Telos’s chest. The crack in Telos’s mind widened. He fell through.
“Blue Death,” the man hissed. He gripped his cane in two hands and drew a sword from its length.
Telos threw his hands up against the long line of sharp steal.
There was quiet on the edge of the street. The rain continued to drench the city. The enforcer breathed slowly.
“Why shouldn’t I, Night Child?”
Telos didn’t know if it was the rain or his tears running from the corners of his eyes.
“I wouldn’t… kill you.”
The end of the sword wavered in front of his eyes. He swallowed, hard. Through the rain, he tried to see the enforcer’s face.
“Why do you have to kill me?”
Disgust replaced determination on the man’s face. He sheathed his sword.
“Because,” he said, “there are those who are afraid of creatures like you. They’re afraid of everything and anything that is not themselves.”
Telos stared at the man with rapidly fading sight. Was there softness in the man’s face, maybe, even a little?
“Come,” the man said. “A broken creature like yourself doesn’t have enough luck in his bones to survive meeting two enforcers in one night.”
Telos blinked slowly. The ache in his head was blooming. He felt his own passing approach, even though imminent death on the enforcer’s sword seemed to have receded.
Strong arms wrapped around his middle. Warmth blossomed across his side. He was being lifted from the wet pavement and wrapped in the man’s arms.
“You don’t weigh more than a twelve year old girl,” the man muttered.
Telos tried to focus through his sliding vision on the man’s face. The glare of the gas lamp caught his eyes, blinding him. He closed his eyes. That was better, seeing nothing.
Maybe he would wake some other place, somewhere far, far away from the terror of Saxony, somewhere with black sheets and the reassuring rocking of a great ship above him.
Episode 1: Terms of Derangement
is available for free on Kobo.
The TERMS Series Season 1 is available on Kobo and Amazon. Season 2 will begin in August 2016.