Clockwork and Old GodsMature

A mysterious stranger has come to the city of Marsten. He has no memory of himself, no memories of life before he arrived at the city. Under the influence of a supernatural green stone he is compelled to carry out the will of an unknown entity. It speaks to him in whispers only he can hear, guiding him to terrible acts and promising the salvation of humanity...

He walked along the darkened streets, the collar of his long coat turned up to protect against the rain. It wasn't helping, but he didn't care. The things he'd seen, the things he'd done... He shook his head violently, as if trying to eject the memories by force. Water sprayed off of his matted hair in all directions, adding every so slightly to the general dampness of the area.

Had it even been real? Or had it all be a dream - no, a nightmare? That must have been it. A nightmare. He looked at his hands. They'd been washed clean by the rain... or had he washed them himself?

It's ok, a voice murmured in his mind. You did what you had to do.

He recoiled, looked all around for the source of the voice. When he didn't see it, he pressed his back against the wall and stared wide eyed into the darkness. "No," he rasped. "I didn't..." his voice caught in his throat, choking off his words.

Shhhhh, the voice soothed. Hush now. It's ok.

His panicked eyes darted from side to side. There! Something back the way he'd come, something... monstrous... with too many legs, all black. And slimy... he could feel it even from here, his skin crawling from the sight of it. And the eyes, sickly green glows in the darkened night.

He ran. His feet tripped over themselves, and he stumbled awkwardly down the street. Puddles splashed loudly as he stamped carelessly through them. He had to get away. It wasn't real.

Then why are you running?

He took a corner blindly, barreled into a group of trash bins and went sprawling among them. He lay there, panting amid the garbage. "Not real," he wheezed. "Not real."

Silence. Blissful, sane silence. The rain pattered down upon the ground, danced on his back as he lay still. The silence drug on, minute by minute. A sense of dread slowly began to infuse itself into his stomach, growing until it overpowered the stench of the garbage. The hairs on the back of his neck began to lift.

He pushed himself from the ground, turning over slowly. The shadows swirled around him, seemingly alive. Inhuman things danced at the edges of his vision, dissolving into nothing if he tried to look directly at them. And the shadows themselves seemed wrong - oily, visceral and more real than ever before. They were everywhere, crawling over everything. His heart pounded in his chest as he pushed himself back, scrabbling to get away. His back hit a wall, and he jumped. Glowing green eyes peered out at him, from every blackened corner.

It's ok, the voice repeated. They won't hurt you. Won't touch you. And you know why, don't you? Just like you know why they're drawn to you.

A shaking hand went to his coat pocket, felt the hard lump of - what, stone? Metal? He didn't know. It shouldn't be there. He'd thrown it... where? He tired to remember, but couldn't. Somewhere. He was sure he'd thrown it somewhere, after... yet here it was.

Take it out, the voice commanded. Show it to them.

As if helpless to do otherwise, he put his hand into the pocket, closed his fist around the cold lump of whatever it was. It was almost too big for his hand to close around it, yet it weighed nothing as he brought it out into the rain. He held his hand before him, saw steam rising from between his fingers. A sickly green glow accompanied the steam. It seemed as if the shadows moved closer, pushing in further in anticipation.

Show it to them.

Transfixed himself, he peeled his fingers away, wincing at the light that seemed to pulse from the stone. It was rough, almost crystalline in nature, a pure green substance that felt like it was probing the back of his head as he looked at it. Despite the coldness he felt against his skin, raindrops vaporized before ever touching the stone, and steam seemed to perpetually rise from it.

The shadows swirled around him, as if eager to get close yet afraid to be near. He caught flashes of legs, thought he saw claws and mandibles and chitin, always implied but never coming into focus. The backs of his eyes felt like they were on fire.

"I can't," he rasped. "Not again."

You can, the voice said, smooth as silk. He felt hands close around his, but saw nothing. You will. And I will show you how.

His hand remained cold. Whatever preternatural force swam within the green stone, it had taken hold in his flesh. Just like it had last time. Just like it always did. It would grow beyond his hand, up to his elbow and then his shoulder. From there it would spread into this chest, some foul plague devouring his very soul. He could feel it happening - already icy tendrils were winding their way through the veins in his arm.

Eventually, he would feel nothing but the icy touch from within. He'd tried to fight it the first time. He'd tried with all he had, with every ounce of defiance he could dredge from his depths. In the end, it had meant that his loss was that much more painful. That much more heartbreaking. And it had just laughed. He hadn't fought it the second time, nor any time after. He briefly thought about fighting it this time, just to show that he still had something left.

He pushed the thought away. Better to just find out what his part would be this time and get things over with. Once it was finished with him he would get his soul back. Warmth would return, gradually, over the course of a few weeks, until nothing of it's influence remained. Nothing but the memories...

It was still raining. He wasn't sure how long it had been since the alley. Time always got fuzzy when he had the stone. It was still night, though. Whether or not it was the same night... He stood at one of the higher points in the city, looking out at it's rain slicked expanse, it's streets aglow with light. He could see the city's outer wall from here. It had long since lost it's importance as a bulwark against invading enemies, and the city was starting to grow past it.

The darkness seemed to close ever more tightly around him, scuttling and hissing illusions dancing at the edge of his sight. He was getting used to them again. They no longer respect the old ways, the voice hissed in his ear. To many of them, the old gods are dead and gone. Myths, and nothing more. It was annoyed. He shifted uneasily. Whenever the voice was unhappy he ended up killing somebody. But you know differently, don't you? Yes, you know.

He remained mute, still as a statue as the rain ran off of him in sheets. Soon the voice would come to the end of it's rant, and his purpose would be made clear. He'd learned to be patient.

They call it progress, the voice seemed to mock the very idea. A slow, terrifying chuckle welled up from some horrible corner of the night.

"Progress," he rasped. He'd seen the effect of progress - children working in factories, the poor forced to back breaking labor just so they could earn enough to survive. Newer, 'better' weapons to kill each other with. All because technology was being touted as a better way than magic. An easier way to a better world, more accessible to the common man, based on facts and science rather than 'mystical mumbo-jumbo'. He grunted something obscene.

They think what they can't see can't hurt them, the voice continued. Out of sight, out of mind, as they say. You will show them that the shadows can hurt them. That the dark of night still holds terrors beyond their imagination. For their own good, you will show them.

"For their own good," he echoed hoarsely. It was always for their own good. So they would learn some lesson or another. So they would become stronger. He'd long ago stopped listening to such rationales. He had his purpose. Armed with it, he started down the hill into the city below only to pause after a few steps. He looked back, watched the shadows roil like a black mist where he'd been standing. His hand went into his pocket, clutching at the green stone. "Come," he hissed.

The night swam after him.


The End

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