This is a piece of work I'd been thinking about submitting for a contest. Looking for some good critiques about what might need changing. Thanks in advance, you guys. Oh, and the word nethermancer is just a placeholder.
Six Years Ago….
It was raining inside Cardack City, a gloomy, depressing day that was overcast with murky clouds and rumbling thunder. Hardly any cars occupied the streets because of the frigid maelstrom and only a scarce amount of bystanders roamed the streets, wrapped up tight in cloaks and jackets.
Behind a redbrick house on the cul-de-sac of High View lane, two boys, no older than 10, were digging vigorously into the wet ground just past the concrete patio, their shovels rising and falling in steady rhythm.
Suddenly, the first one stopped, using their shovel as a leaning stick to gaze up into the moon. Their neatly brushed black hair had long since fallen apart into slick strands as their purple eyes gleamed with instant dislike. “Hn...this moon...it’s so full, so bright...so disgusting. Yo, Mike—”
“Quit calling me that,” snapped the second, digging harder. His chestnut eyes were tight, narrowed on the objective at hand to such a degree that he could make out the various insects poking out from their ruined homes. “My name...is Michael.”
“Yeah, yeah, whatever.” The first pointed up with a scowl. “Doesn’t the moon make you sick?”
Michael shrugged his soaked shoulders. He was drenched to the bone, his arm muscles were screaming out in pain, the pounding sleet was ice-cold, and he had thicker-than-mud blood stains all over his shirt and pants—whether or not he disliked the moon was the farthest thing from his mind. He just wanted to get this job over and done with. “Shut up and keep digging, would you? I’m trying to get the freak out of this rain.”
“Why?” the other boy asked, sounding sincerely dumbfounded. Michael noticed he still didn’t resume digging. “The rains’ the best part in my opinion. The world you wanna go to beyond this one rains constantly. Didn’t you know?”
“I didn’t care.” Staring down into the grave he’d just dug, Michael could see the very bottom fast filling with muddy water and sucked his teeth. It wasn’t very deep, only passing four feet. “Whatever. This is deep enough. Where’s the body, Krono?”
“Bet you’d have a conniption if I said ‘I don’t know’, huh?”
With the slowest of movements, Michael turned his head to stare back at Krono, hating that smug grin spread through those glistening lips. His grip tightened over the shovel he held—and Krono started to laugh, throwing up his hands in mock-surrender.
“See? Told ya! Hold on, hold on, be right back. I got tired and left it by the stairs,” he chuckled sliding the patio doors open and disappearing inside.
Letting the rain cool what had begun to grow into heated rage, Michael sighed as Krono’s footsteps began to fade. The only sound was the roar of the storm brewing all around him and he looked towards the sky.
“This is…stupid. Standing out in the rain where I could catch pneumonia or something.” He had to question whether that was what he secretly wished, to contract a deadly disease of ailment and simply die….“Not like there’d be anyone here to weep for me….”
There came a sudden ‘thwump!’ and Krono’s voice echoed out around him. “Yeah, true, but—c’mon, you stupid—but then think about all the F.R.G’s you’d never get to kill, all the souls you could gather for that crazy lady.”
The excitement and wonder in Krono’s tone made a bubble of nausea pop in Michael’s gut. “She’s our Queen, you idiot. Show some respect—”
“Or what? You’ll snitch on me? Ha, don’t you know snitches get stitches and burned in ditches?”
Turning his attention to the muddy hole in the ground, Michael muttered, “I thought it was buried in ditches.”
Grunting and heaving something in a white pillow-case stained crimson, Krono came around the hole’s other end, letting the luggage fall behind him. He bent forward onto his knees, a mixture of sweat and rain running the length of his cheeks. “Not with me, man,” he panted. “I burn snitches.”
Not even the musky scent of falling rain could shield Michael’s nose from the stench rising off that sack. Inside he knew there was the body of a boy he had murdered less than three days ago; how was he supposed to know that bodies could decay so fast, leave such a virulent odor? It was indescribably rancid and had his stomach rolling.
“So now once we bury this thing all you should have to do is clean up the blood and collect the letters, right?” asked Krono.
Michael nodded, his brown eyes hollow. He sniffed with the hopes that the death-inducing cold he’d wished for was coming. “Krono, how long have you been a Nethermancer?”
“Technically, I’m not. My parents were tho’—I’m just an N.I.T.” Rubbing under his nose, he lifted the blood-dripping pillowcase with one hand, the weight seemingly null to him. “Whew! This thing smells like a cat on the side of the road. How’d you kill him?”
Ignoring that question, Michael staged one of his own. “Does this feeling…does it ever go away?”
It took Krono a moment to realize Michael had even spoke; he’d been too enthralled watching the thick strands of scarlet flow from the bottom of the sack into the grave. “What feeling?”
“Like you’ll never smile again? Like…you could die at any moment, have your whole body just corrode out from under you….Does it ever leave you?”
A wide, almost psychotic smile tugged up Krono’s lips. “Oh, that,” and he let the bag drop with a laugh. “No. It stays with you forever. You just learn to enjoy it.”
A stomach turning ‘crunch’ echoed from the base of the sepulchral and Michael looked up to see Krono smiling at him, his dirty black hair blowing off to the side.
“Call me messed up in the head, call me insane, call me whatever the hell you want, Michael, but yeah…when you cross over to our side you’d better not be expecting all that sunshine and glory you had over there. Trust me, it’d be a lot easier on your mental psyche if you just…gave in. Judging by the state of that sack down there, you’ve got a pretty vicious way of killing someone. Bet it felt good, huh?” He paused, nearly laughing when Michael averted his gaze, scowling. “Ah don’t be like that, you pansy. Admit it! It felt awesome! Taking away someone else’s life—I bet the little punk screamed, didn’t he? Begged for his life and all that? Yeah, they always do.”
Even though Michael agreed to nothing, every word Krono spoke was true…and he grew sickened with himself. His stomach was tossing even more violently—
“We are the reapers of this world, man! Everyone thinks we’re bad and they’re good…not true, it’s not true at all,” Krono whispered, and his smile faded slightly. “I’ve seen some of the things their people can do, makes what we did look almost like child’s play. But they do it anyway…and because they do it, we have to do it, too! Right?”
It was perhaps the tone of desperation to Krono’s words that spurred Michael to answer with a weak, “Yeah….”
“If our blood flows…so will theirs. Enjoy the fight, man,” continued Krono, and he sat down on the wet earth and began scooping in mounds of dirt with his bare hands, “because there’s gonna be plenty.”
And he suddenly snatched his hands back when Michael collapsed to his knees, vomiting what looked like all he’d ever consumed into their crudely dug grave. When the boy had succumbed to dry-heaving, Krono chuckled and resumed his shoveling.
“Gotta get a stronger stomach than that, man.”
Michael wiped his bottom lip. “It’s the smell….”
“Sure it is. You didn’t help it any, did ya?”
With his stomach empty, Michael couldn’t say he felt better. Quite the opposite, he felt worse than the day he fell. Once or twice suicide crossed his depleted mind but he believed in hell—the thought struck him stupid with fear—and he also believed in heaven. He just wasn’t so sure if he believed in the thing who was supposed to rule heaven.
“So,” began Krono conversationally, though eagerly as well, “how did you kill him?”
Twice Michael tried to speak but after vomiting his mouth felt sticky and hot, not wanting to cooperate. Hacking slightly, he spit off to the side. Wasn’t much but it helped. “He kept…yelling for his parents,” he began morosely, and Krono sniggered as though a joke had been cracked. “Every time I tried to talk always the same ‘where’s my mom?’ or ‘why did she leave me?’ It was annoying and before I knew what was happening, I’d grabbed a knife and slit his mouth open….”
If that disgusted Krono any, his blank expression didn’t let on. “That’s all?” he finally said, and he sounded disappointed. “That’s all you did?”
Michael was beginning to wish that were all he’d done. Good thing his stomach was empty. “I didn’t tell you why he was screaming in the first place.” His story of torture and dismemberment held Krono’s usually short attention span for the better half of fifteen minutes, during which they finished filling in the grave and smoothing out the dirt mound. “…and that’s when he started screaming for his parents….”
As they stood together in the drowning hail, Krono gave Michael a congratulatory slap on the back, grinning more understandingly than joyously. “Wow…that’ll make an excellent bonfire story, Mike.”
“Don’t call me that….”
“Yeah, yeah, whatever. Do ya need any more help or do you got it from here?” he asked, then he put a hand to his chin in thought. “Wait, I should probably stay just in case. Restorers patrol the city like clockwork and the scent of blood is heavy here—good thing the Enverto Signum doesn’t come with that backlash….”
“No, I’m good here,” said Michael tersely. In truth, he wanted nothing more than to be alone, possibly to go lay down in the bed that once belonged to the boy buried at their feet. “I only needed your assistance with the body—”
“Liar.” Krono looked up at the moon, his expression like Michael’s. Blank. “You wanted someone here with you to shoulder the duty of burying your first kill. You didn’t wanna be alone.”
Clenching his jaw, Michael shrugged. “If that’s what you think, sure. Is that how you handled your first k—”
“My first kill was my father. I didn’t really want anyone around me at the time,” muttered Krono, and his grin returned when Michael’s eye’s widened. “Be glad your first was some nameless, powerless kid.”
“Suppose I should then,” agreed Michael starting into the house. He waited until Krono passed to slide the patio doors shut before turning to face the wide living room. It was dark and gloomy with a bitter twinge of frost that flowed in from the cold sleet. Krono yawned as he stretched. “Do I have to write a report about this or something? As you know, I’m kind of new at this.”
“That depends. Who gave you the mission?”
Maybe it was the seriousness of the situation or maybe it was the inflexible tone in Krono’s utterance but when he asked the question Michael felt compelled to answer without any lip. He suddenly realized Krono was of higher rank than he was, something he would have to change as fast as possible. “Grudge Ingley.”
“Then, obviously, it was Lord Crux who gave it to him. I wonder what they see in you, man?” he questioned and he surveyed Michael with lowered eyebrows as though hoping to spot something irregular. A moment later he shrugged. “Yeah, you might want to. I’d offer to do it for ya but, well…I just don’t want to.”
“I understand. I never planned on asking for your help,” said Michael evenly. “Your job ended the moment we buried the body.”
“So true,” said Krono. He crossed the living room, went down the foyer, and had just grabbed the front doorknob when he looked back frowning. “Ya know…there’s two things I’d like to say to ya, Mike.”
Michael’s left eye twitched. “You’ve got one more chance to call me that before you become my second kill, Krono.”
Krono wagged a finger scoldingly. “I wouldn’t advise it--trust me, I’m stronger than you now, it’d be an unfair death. And the two tidbits for you are: 1, don’t ever, ever bring blood around Stain, and 2, don’t mess with the women. I mean, upskirt peeks and crud are cool and all, but don’t make one of ‘em mad. Again, trust me.”
He was gone, the door closing softly behind him.