Winter had been particularly stern that year. Dark nights rolled in as though the sun just couldn’t wait to disappear at four o'clock each afternoon. After that, everyone was left to deal with the razor sharp wind and rain. The kind Raymeria hadn’t seen in over fifty years.
The previous Tuseday, the Seafar city council issued a flood warning to the public works department, who would later that day have to seal off more than ten streets around the city in order to avoid or at least control the predicted floods. They had been paid good overtime that week. Hardworking dots of fluorescent yellow and orange could be seen from the tops of the luxury apartments across the city setting up sandbags and barriers on the banks of the canal. The water in the canal could touch the brim at the best of times, so heavy rain was something to fret about.
On the night Mr. Ekelund, owner of Ekelund’s Modern Art Museum, was to expect a visit from the man he had been talking to every second Monday night for the past year, the rain had been pouring all day and didn’t show any signs of breaking. Rivers of water ran down the gutter on each side of Killermont Street and rippled around the tyres of parked cars.
A chocolate bar wrapper floated helplessly down one of those rivers. After getting caught amongst clusters of stones and twigs, it freely sailed down to the corner of Killermont until it was finally crushed under the wheel of a car pulling up to the pavement.
The driver shut off the engine, but kept the full-beam lights blazing away. The windshield wipers were still thrusting from side to side, squeegeeing handfuls of water from the glass. He gave the man in the back seat a look through his bushy eyebrows and said “Will I wait for you, sir?”
The man looked out the window at the museum. He could already feel his flesh crawling at the thought of having to endure the sight of modern art and the dim-witted clique that came with it. “Yes please. I won’t be too long. I can't stand this place. The sooner he gives me what I want, the quicker I can turn my back on this place for good”
“Very good, sir.”
The man got out of the car, and although he only had to walk a few feet to the doorway, he still had to zip up his black leather jacket to protect his torso from the rain. He enjoyed the rain, but in moderation. There would be cases where a weather forecast predicting rain would send him to the kitchen to mark that day in his calendar. When that day came, he would go out and walk around, getting soaked to the skin. Nonetheless, this rain was too much.
He ran towards the doorway and felt himself attempting to push the door open, but hearing his brain shout no, don’t go in there! But he had to. This was one of the very scarce times that Ekelund was going to come through with what he had promised.
The bell atop the door rang, but no one looked his way. There were several groups of heavily tarted-up men and women, the arty type, dribbling over some of the least worked-on heaps of garbage he had ever set eyes on.
The walls had even more of it. Aspiring artists from all over the kingdom, and some from overseas, had submitted their tripe to Ekelund in the firm hope that he would hang it on his wall for everyone to look at. The man in the leather jacket was amazed at the price tags on some of these works. Traditional art was in decline, and those who struggled for years to render it were now spinning in their graves.
He walked past a group of nattering ‘mature’ teenagers who were droning on about their mundane lives and how they found every aspect of life to be a drag. He could see a tall, skinny looking man standing talking to a stout, blonde woman. He looked as though he was trying to keep his head upright as she talked his ear off.
He sighed and unzipped his leather jacket to reveal a red t-shirt with a thick, black stripe running across the middle. He didn’t look as though he had complied with the museum’s dress code.
It was turning 9p.m and the man was eager to get his business with Ekelund over and done with. There was something creepy about the guy. He walked over to the skinny man and tapped him on the shoulder. He tuned his head slightly and then back to the woman. He didn’t give the man his full attention until he was tapped on the shoulder yet again. “Yes, sir. I will be with you in just a moment. Please head back to my office.”
The man nodded and smiled and then headed down a narrow corridor next to where Ekelund was standing. At the end, there was a red door with STAFF written on it in big bold letters. Suffice it to say that only Ekelund and those he invited were allowed to enter that room. However, it never caused a problem as he was the only one who worked there.
The door was unlocked, so the man let himself into the office. He was amazed to see that Ekelund’s office was just a scaled down version of his museum. He had taken some of the older work from the front and crammed his office with it.
On the wall there were many pictures of Ekelund and unrecognisable faces. The only one the man could fathom was in the photo nearest the corner. Ekelund stood shaking hands with Lord Tenburry, the Mayor of Seafar city. He even managed to get the local politicians to approve of his house of crap.
He felt inclined to sit down on one of the red cushioned chairs, but he could only imagine that many of Ekelund’s pimple-faced fan base had sat their talentless asses down on the soft cushion.
Unperturbed by what he had previously thought, he sat down on the seat and waited patiently for Ekelund to finish talking to the stout lady. That was unless he had moved on to another.
His attention was then taken by a rather ugly looking and very small statue of some sort of goblin like creature. It was the colour of concrete. It seems who ever had carved it (probably with their feet) didn’t have time to paint it. He went to pick it up but was then hindered when the office door suddenly opened.
Ekelund stood in the doorway adjusting his dark blue tie. He walked into the room with the grace of someone who was about to meet a dignitary, like Mayor Tenburry or the like. When he sat behind his desk, he immediately took out a set of keys from his pocket and began to unlock the bottom drawer of his desk.
“No hello?” asked the man.
“Next time, I wish you would call before turning up. I’m having a viewing tonight,” replied Ekelund.
“No need, my friend. As long as you have what I need, this will be our last encounter.”
“Yes, I have what you want, but only because the money transfer was completed successfully. I still have no idea what you plan to do with this stuff.”
The key clicked in the lock and Ekelund pulled the drawer open. He fished around inside without looking into the drawer itself, and when he grabbed a hold of what he was looking for he said “Ah, got it!”
He took out a fat jiffy envelope and dropped it to the table. “To be honest,” said Ekelund, “I wouldn’t throw it about like that if I were you. Its contents are quite fragile.”
“Thanks for the advice. I see you’ve been busy with the little task I set you.”
“Little? I’ll have you know I had to run around like a fly in a trance to get these maps and manuscripts. And to this day you still haven’t told me exactly what you needed them for. You told me you were researching ancient cultures from the kingdom’s past, but now you ask for this? Everyone else who has studied our nation’s history has been more than contented with reading a few textbooks. You on the other hand are another case.”
“Ekelund, if I told you what I needed these for, you would laugh me out of this building. Besides, do you really need to know, or was that handsome sum of money I wired you not enough?”
“Oh I don’t care. I give up. Well, I think this concludes our business, Mr. Simpson. I will show you to the door.”
Ekelund walked over to the office door and opened it. He stood next to the open doorway and gestured for the man to go through the door first. Simpson stood up, but before he left, he turned back around to look at the statue on the desk. “I just have one question. What is that thing?”
“That, Mr. Simpson, is a stone statue of Tezquatlie, the ancient god of the moon. Have you never heard of him?”
Simpson turned to Ekelund with a grin on his face. “Him? They assigned a gender to it? My god, you do collect some amount of hideous garbage, don’t you?”
“I’ll admit it isn’t one of history’s most attractive treasures, but it is an original. That is an actual statue carved by the ancient Merian culture.”
“Wow, first class, eh. It’s too bad civilisation back then didn’t consolidate their gods into one like they do today.”
“Yes, well I like it. Now, if you please, I have guests to attend to.”
The two men walked back down the corridor towards the main floor. The crows of guests had thinned out a bit, but new faces had appeared from out the rain judging by the droplets of water on the floor.
Just before Simpson reached the door, Ekelund said “There is one thing that has bothered me about you, well, amongst a few other things. What is your real name?”
Simpson turned to face him and chuckled. “My real name? What makes you think I’ve been keeping that a secret?”
“I can smell I liar from a mile off. You probably had your reasons for keeping it a secret, but considering the length I went to in order to get you what you needed, I figure you should come clean.”
“Those reasons I kept my real name from you, Mr. Ekelund, still exist.” Simpson smiled and headed out the door into the dark, rainy night.
The bushy-browed driver spotted Simpson coming out of the museum and started the engine.
Simpson climbed into the back seat and placed the jiffy pack on the seat next to him. He swept the rain from his leather jacket and buckled his seatbelt. “I’d like to head over to my apartment in Golden Heights please.”
“Yes, sir,” replied the driver.
The car drove down the rain-slicked road towards Golden Heights. It would first take the detour past the old iron works that had been left in its charred state since the great fire in 2020. It had been a sight to behold when it was up and running, but it had attracted just as many gazes as a burned out old shell.
After that came one of the biggest commercial districts in the city. By now, most of the shops and offices were closed for the night, but the place was still lit up beautifully. It was like something out of a futuristic movie.
As the car stopped at a red light, Simpson looked over at one of the lampposts and spotted a piece of paper stuck to it. There was an image depicting a young man with spikey hair, and underneath it was HAVE YOU SEEN THIS MAN? The poster was worn and had small scraps torn out of it.
Simpson faced front and sighed.
The car drove on to Golden Heights. The apartments here were rather middle-class, but it was still a ten minute car journey to the inner city to find the corresponding social venues.
The driver stopped outside a very tall apartment building and switched the engine off. “Here we are, sir. Home sweet home.”
“Thank you, Jefferson. I won’t need you tomorrow. I have some work to do,” replied Simpson.
“Very good, sir. Goodnight.”
Simpson stepped out of the car and quickly ran into the lobby of the building. The lights had been dimmed, just like they usually were between the hours of 9p.m and 7a.m. The decorators had been in. Simpson could tell this by the sheets and tins of paint stacked in one corner of the lobby. However, he could also see that no work had been done.
He came out of the elevator and into the hallway of floor twelve. He preferred a higher up home. It wasn’t just for the view, but he felt like he was further away from the city on the twelfth floor. Not that he didn’t like the city. But sometimes he had to get away from it.
He walked over to the third door on his right and pulled out a set of keys. He liked the clicking of the heels of his shoes on the hard floor. He quickly unlocked the door and pushed it open.
If only Mr Ekelund could have met with Simpson here at Golden Heights, he would have known the gentleman’s real name. There was an easy enough to read gold coloured name plate on the front door that read JACE WALKER.
He threw his keys on the table next to the door and walked into the living room. It was a plain decor with a few framed paintings of TRADITIONAL art on the walls. The colour scheme was dark, but was brightened up a little with the small bowls of flowers dotted around the place.
The first thing that came to his mind was coffee. He had a long night ahead of him and wanted to stay alert. He sat the jiffy bag down on his desk and threw his jacket on the floor. He would promise himself he would pick it up later, but would then leave it until the next morning, like he always did.
As the kettle boiled, he took a look at himself in the bathroom mirror. He’d been doing so much running around in the past two years, chasing something he couldn’t see, he started to look a little worn. Or at least he thought so.
He ran his hands through his hair and smiled at himself in his reflection. I hope you spent that compensation money wisely ... Bryce Simpson. He chuckled at himself and splashed some cold water on his face.
He dropped his usual three cubes of sugar into the cup and stirred it. It was his usual brand, the only one he actually could smell the aromatic blends from like it says on TV. He blew on it and set it down on the kitchen table and reached for the milk.
Just then, Jace could have sworn he’d heard a slight whistling noise coming from the hallway. He could hear the rain outside, but there was no wind. Besides that, the apartment was sealed shut from the elements outside. He ignored it and poured a splash of milk into his coffee.
As he carefully walked into the living room, making sure the burning hot liquid didn’t spill out onto the carpet, he stopped dead in his tracks when the whistling sound returned, this time from behind. He turned around to see an empty hallway, but in his imagination, he saw a dark shadow at the end, standing there and whistling at him. The hairs on the back of his neck stood on end and the goose pimples on his arms became like molehills. He took several deep breaths and walked into the living room.
He’d had a long day and now he was hearing things. That’s what he would tell himself as he sat down at his desk and reached for the jiffy bag. There was no one in his apartment except for him ... and the whistling.
“Let’s see what we have here,” he said.
He reached inside and ran his fingers over the bundle of rough and aged documents. He gingerly slid them out of their bubbly casing and sat them down in front of him. They were old, right enough, and looked as though even a slight breeze could send them into the air in a cloud of dust.
The first document he took from the bundle had an image on it. There was a crude drawing of two knights holding their swords up above their heads with the tips touching. Despite it being a crude drawing, the symmetry was very well presented. It was the text underneath that interested Jace more, though. He had to squint as the lettering was a little worn, but he could make out the words YOU WILL FIND ALBRA IN THE DRAGON’S GAZE.
What the hell does that mean? Jace thought about the time he saw a dragon for himself. He didn’t believe it when he saw the great silver beast emerge from Mik’s amulet. Even when it chased him through the dorms and through the academy, he was sure his mind was playing tricks on him. But he didn’t want to stop, and he ran so fast from it he almost beat the devil. Now he knew he saw it. He looked the dragon dead in the eyes and saw past it. He saw its great power, the power it had taken from those who abused the magic.
Jace had no idea about the silver dragon guild, nor did he know that the dragon was responsible for seizing the magic that once caused much harm to the kingdom. It wasn’t until his research on Ungura the silver dragon reached its seventh month that he learned much of the same information that Mik had from the brown book.
Thanks to Ekelund, Jace was able to discover more and more about the guild and how they created the beast that chased him down the hallways of the Seafar academy two years ago. Of course, Ekelund dismissed this as ancient folklore, but Jace knew differently.
He dropped the parchment onto the desk and rubbed his fingers in his eyes. He wanted the image that haunted him for so long out of his mind. There was no way the dragon was going to come back for him. Why would it? He had nothing to do with the amulet, or even the silver dragon guild. The amulet belonged to Mik, therefore it was up to him to figure out what to do about it.
So why was Jace sitting there, planning to burn the midnight oil with a pile of old manuscripts and parchments, trying to get to the bottom of what could have happened to his big cousin? He knew why. Mik was still alive, somewhere, and probably trying to get back in touch with his family. It was the best news he heard after the rebel attack on the city was crushed that Mik’s body was never found. He could feel in his gut that Mik was still out there somewhere.
The next parchment he took from the pile was folded. He carefully laid it out straight on the desk and took a look at what was printed on it. From what he could see, he reckoned that someone had made a map off Raymeria. The shore had been drawn to what many would have imagined the coastline to look like back then, but it was defiantly Raymeria. The cities and towns had different names, and some of them no longer existed. Other than that, there was no other significance to the map.
He took a large gulp of coffee. It was still pretty hot and burned his mouth a little. He swallowed it quickly and panted with his tongue out, trying to release the heat from his mouth.
The clock was ticking closer and closer to the time he would normally retire for the night, but he was determined to cram as much information into his head as he could. He felt like he had wasted too much time over the past two years when it came to finding Mik. Then again, he was amazed he managed to get this far. He had no idea where to start looking the day he started his investigation.
A wave of frustration washed over him. He wasn’t looking at anything that could advance him any further. He felt as though he had hit a brick wall. What was he doing? He was plunging himself deeper and deeper into the shit trying to involve himself in such a daring task. It was for his cousin, he knew that, but he had doubted his abilities to find even a single trace of where Mik had disappeared to. All he knew was that he went to retrieve the amulet from the dorm room, and then vanished without a trace.
It was the amulet he thought of during his investigation. Its ability to imprison a dragon spirit amazed him. He understood its power and abilities, and the fact that it could have been responsible for Mik dodging death at the hands of the rebels made sense to him.
He flicked through the remainder of the documents until something caught his eye. He slid it out from amongst the pile and set it flat on the table. His complexion whitened and he had the sudden urge to vomit. Suddenly, all he could remember was those devilish eyes, shining brightly as he stood there frozen from their hypnotic glow. It was there, on the parchment and staring back at him like it had two years ago. It was unmistakable, and the drawing looked so much like the real thing that Jace thought he was still back in his old dorm room. In giant bold letters UNGURA was written on the paper, just under an uncanny sketch of the beast itself.
He felt dizzy. His head was spinning, maybe from remembering Ungura and coming face too face with it again, albeit in the form of a drawing. But it was a very realistic drawing, as though the artist had stood in front of the dragon for hours and drew it.
Things became worse when the cup of still hot coffee that had been sitting next to him on the desk suddenly became hotter. So hot, in fact, that it began to bubble and boil just like the water in the kettle. The apartment seemed to be heating up with it. Jace felt a spike in the temperature. He jumped back from the desk and could only look at a volcano of liquid and foam burst from the cup. The steam coming from it was incredible.
Jace held his head in his hands. “Stop it!” he cried, “Stop it now!” But whatever was doing this was just getting started.
The coffee cup slid across to the front of the desk and launched itself towards Jace. With great agility, he managed to dive out of the way and roll on the floor out of its way. He looked up and saw the mug smash on the wall. The steaming brew ran its way down the paintwork.
“I said stop it right now!” bawled Jace.
Whatever it was wasn’t listening to him. It was determined to keep him from looking through the old parchments. It wasn’t clear if things were becoming fatal, but they sure as hell became dangerous.
He stood up and looked around him. He could have sworn the room jsut got darker. No, in fact, he was positive it had gotten darker. The lights hadn’t gone out. Instead they remained on, but they didn’t emit any kind of light. They acted more like round, yellow disks on the ceiling.
For a moment, everything was calm. The room was still in darkness, but the commotion had ceased. But a second later all that would change when the whistling returned. This time it was louder. It was right next to him. He could not only hear it, but feel it blowing on his face.
The whistling became a rhythmic tune that repeated over and over again. All of a sudden the rest of the universe had no sound. All that existed was the whistling and the sound of Jace’s heart beating ever greater. There was something in the apartment, but it would never reveal itself.
For the first time in five minutes, Jace was able to move his legs from where they where they were fixed. He ran towards the door and reached for his house keys. But before he could make it, he felt his torso come under intense pressure. He stopped dead in his tracks and felt his arm being pushed back, out of reach of his keys. He struggled with great might, but it was all to no avail. He was picked up off his feet and thrown like a ragdoll to the other side of the living room.
As he tumbled through the air, he could still hear the rhythmic whistling in his ears. The next sound he would head would be his own body thudding on the carpeted floor. The fall knocked the air from his lungs. He lay flat out on his back and at this point could only see the tiles on the white ceiling.
He tried to move, but found out, much to his distress, that he was stuck in that position. It wasn’t like when his legs were frozen from fear. No, this was something else. Something had pinned him to the floor. Something drained the strength from his limbs and left him immobile, vulnerable and in even greater danger.
He tried to mumble the words help me, please help me, but they were stuck in his throat. He tried with all his might to move his right arm from the floor, however it proved futile.
Then came the noise that would chill the blood in his veins even more. As the light in the room flickered, it was accompanied by a shivering roar. It echoed all over the apartment and shook several paintings and mirrors from the walls. The mirrors fell to the ground and shattered in a million pieces.
Jace lay paralyzed on the floor and gave up all hope of ever recovering. The remainder of his energy was running dry and he could feel his eyelids shutting over. He tried one last time to move his arms, but when he heard the horrible cackling laugh coming from thin air, his body completely gave up and he blacked out.
The apartment would then fall silent for the rest of the night.
He was still breathing, but he didn’t move an inch all night. There were times when his body would twitch and quiver, but he remained unconscious right through until the next morning.
The first thing he heard when he came around was the birds chirping on his balcony. Their pleasant music often woke him up, and he preferred it more to a deafening alarm clock.
He was as dry as a bone. His tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth. His head felt no better. The last time he felt like this was the morning after he and a group of his friends snuck a bottle of blue label vodka into their high school dance party. He vowed then that he never wanted to feel like that ever again. Only this time, he had no choice.
He pushed down with his hands and sat up on the floor. He looked around the room and saw that it was pretty much still in the same state as it was when he passed out. No more damage had been done afterwards. Shards of glass they strewn around the floor from the broken mirrors, and a large, brown coffee stain ran down the wall.
He reckoned he could remember everything, but a lot of it still seemed a little cloudy. He looked over towards the desk and saw that the parchments were still sitting there.
He stood up to the best of his abilities and held on to the wall as he inched his way over to the kitchen. He figured that the coffee stain could be painted over later, but he had to get the broom and clean up the glass before he stood on any of it.
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