Chapter 15:

Silver flames

Sinner of the Spades

Lumière ran through Cobbler's street, having forgotten any sense of cautiousness within the seeping dark atmosphere. The sun had faded and given way to the lilac moon, and rain began to pour down without withdrawal. There was a slight murmuring of thunder in the distance, and bright flashes of lightning occurred in the hilltops. Soon, Lumière reached the hillside on which the monastery had been built, and an eerie horror clutched at Lumière's heart. On the hillside, where at night one would have found all the male Dwindlers gathering, there was not a single person present. Small firepits had been left untended under the rain, protected by small awnings that Father Benedict had built for them, with minute amounts of fading embers crackling away at the charred wood.

Lumière looked up towards the monastery that rested past a small stone staircase past a group of trees, only to realise that its door had been left slightly open. He quickly stepped up the steps, steeling his gaze and his quickly beating heart as he carefully pulled the door handle towards him. As soon as he stepped inside, Lumière was assaulted by a thick putrid scent that had a hint of sickening sweetness. He covered his nose and stepped inside, pulling off his hat and setting it to the side.

The candlelight in the monastery had been extinguished, and only a faint glint of purple moonlight shone in from the stained glass window. Lumière walked over to the side of the monastery's main hall, being carefully quiet to not wake anyone, and took one of the oil lamps off of the wall. He pulled a match out from his pocket, striking it against the matchbox and using it to light the lamp. He then turned it towards the interior of the hall, illuminating the

Lumière's eyes widened with a sense of horror and fear that struck his heart at the same time, sending his mind into a fierce and irresistible turmoil. On the ground in front of him, as well as the walls, pews, and altar of unlit candles which sat underneath a statue of the Goddess of Thorns had been covered in the remains of human bodies.

Lumière's body tensed up immediately, and his shaking gaze settled in a horrified stare at the middle of the room.

Standing in the centre of the endless corpses, bathed in a coat of bright crimson blood, a man in a black cloak whose hood had been pulled away stood calmly, revealing his scarred and paled face to the lamplight. He had bright red eyes that seemed to gleam like jewels in the dark, and his smile which was unnaturally pulled upwards seemed stuck in place. He had a thick black aura permeating around his body, so Lumière immediately recognised him to be the eater of rats who had frequently visited the monastery for food.

Lumière grimaced, setting the oil lamp down on a pew beside him, allowing it to continue to illuminate the monastery in a dull-orange glow.

'This man... fuck. I didn't even think for a moment that he would pose such a threat. Are the Sister and Father okay? I'm sure they would've run away... no, I can't assume that. They would have definitely stayed and helped... is he going to kill me too, now that I've arrived?'

He immediately abandoned his grief for the time being, focusing on his immediate survival as he let his gaze wander around the hall. Countless thoughts raced through his mind, all measuring his survival based on his environment. However, the man in front of him didn't seem ready to let him think of such a thing.

Suddenly, the corpses around him seemed to catch on fire. First, embers began to wisp about on their bloodied, torn-apart flesh. Then, those embers turned a faint silver colour, before growing into thick silver flames that permeated on their clothes, setting the environment around them alight in bright colour. Although, unlike normal flames, they didn't seek to spread, and simply started to char away the flesh of the corpses. Lumière could then see clearly the form of the rat man in a long black cloak, and his unsettling unnatural smile that curved up against his cheeks.

"You did this?" Lumière asked of him, a glaring fury passing through his gaze.

There was silence for a long time, but gradually, the man parted his lips and began to reply.

"Sometimes... we eat them." He spoke with wild exasperation, his manic expression visible as he raised his upturned palms towards Lumière as if he were proselytising. "If we don't get sick from eating them, then it is a good day."

"The rats?"

The man shook his head slightly, his eyes filling with an intense madness that sent a chill down Lumière's spine.

"The people."

Lumière immediately burst into action after hearing those words. Running towards the fireplace, he could feel the presence of the crazed man chasing towards him, although when he glanced back, what he saw was not a man. The shadows of the dark environment seemed to warp around him, growing into a dozen illusory arms whose hands propped him up in the air, pressing their palms against the walls and floors as he cascaded through the air towards Lumière. Lumière foolishly took a handful of ashes from the fireplace and threw them up. In an instant, the space around the crazed man was cloaked in a thick cloud of soot and ash. Lumière shielded his eyes and began to move through the black cloud towards the other end of the room, before pulling out the only item he had in his pocket. It was the pocket watch that had been gifted to him by his closest friends. Ironically, it was what would allow him to buy time.

Lumière reached into the cloak of silver flames of a nearby corpse and pulled out a red-hot poker that he had previously retrieved from the fireplace along with a handful of ash, burying it into the silver flames to heat it up. It now glowed a bright red colour and singed the flesh of Lumière's palm as he stepped forward towards the crazed man. Lumière's heart beat wildly as every instinct in his body screamed at him to flee, but he recalled the faces of those closest to him and took a glance at the charred corpses around him to stoke a wave of anger in his heart that superseded his fear. In an instant, a dangerous ember amidst the silver flames had sparked, and a new blaze was ignited in his despairing heart.

Out of the cloud of soot, Lumière hurled the pocket watch onto the floor of the monastery. Crazily, the man and his dozen shadowy arms lept towards the sudden sound, crashing towards the floor with an ear-piercing howl that shook the foundation of the building. Alongside the thrown pocket watch, Lumière rushed towards the man, allowing his suppressed fear to keep him moving forward. Lumière had positioned himself opposite the hall's exit. While there was a staircase to his left, it was nearly impossible to make it there without being caught by the crazed multi-armed man, and even if he was able to make it up to the second floor, there was still no readily available escape. So, by positioning himself in such a way, Lumière had forced himself to have only one option of survival - the elimination of the mysterious and terrifying being that stood before him.

Lumière raised the red-hot poker as the crazed man was distracted and precisely thrust it forward, spearing it through the man's eye. If he had not spent so much time within the fencer's association, it was likely he would have missed. The crazed man reeled back in pain, clutching at his eye as a thin rush of black blood began dripping down his cheek, pooling on the floor below him. The shadowy tendril-like hands retracted back into him, and he fell to his knees as he cried out in his gravelly shrieking voice. Lumière stepped without caution towards the man, as if in the face of his gradually-returning grief, he had abandoned his own survival. He could hear faint murmurs in the distance, although they were different from before. They seemed to be the cries of the charred corpses around him.

"No... this isn't nearly enough. I need you to feel just like they did. I need you to despair." Lumière spoke with a harsh tone of voice.

Lumière's lips fell slightly, revealing a frown that coupled with his ice-cold stare. Immediately, Lumière's vision began to darken like before. There were countless illusory murmurs in the distance that were just like the ones he had always heard, and horrid bloodshot eyes burgeoned from the dark clouds that pooled against the monastery's ceiling. Although this time, it seemed slightly different. Instead of just losing consciousness, it seemed like he was also losing his lucidity instead. His control over his body began to seep away, and the shadows in the room began to shiver and twitch as small tendrils erupted.

As Lumière lost his will over his consciousness, 'he' descended from the shadows, enveloping Lumière in 'his' features. What seemed like a thousand crows in the large hall seemed to recklessly bomb downwards from the shade, spilling their blood in splashes against the air before transforming into a thick viscous black liquid. That liquid rose up from the ground along with the remaining crows, and 'he' was enveloped in a long fluttering black cloak. The figure that wrapped its features over Lumière's had short black hair with small strands falling past its ears, and glistening black eyes that held a fatigued sense of despair. In most aspects, he looked identical to Lumière, apart from black eyeliner which sharpened 'his' gaze, and a sickly pale-white tone on 'his' cheeks.

"Despair." The figure spoke aloud, his hoarse voice echoing through the monastery's halls.

The intruder who had killed the Dwindlers within the monastery suddenly felt the strength in his limbs melt away, the remaining stamina being used to tremble with intense fear. He was forced to stand back up, pulling his hands away from his bleeding eye as he looked up at the newly-emerged cloaked being.

The figure who encapsulated 'Despair' stepped forward. 'Despair' raised his hand slightly, and the intruder's chin lifted along with it.

"Why?" Despair spoke aloud. "Why do all of this?"

His gaze, which seemed sharpened by black eyeliner and pools of fatigue looked on towards the intruder with an intense sense of malice and bloodlust. With all of his strength, the intruder lifted his head and sneered.

"You! You are the murderer!" The intruder smiled maniacally. "'He' wishes for you to fear him. He wishes for you to despair!"

The figure's lips curled up slightly.

"'He' wishes for me to 'Despair'?"

The intruder's eyes lost their crazed look, and immediately filled with a look of intense fear, knowing that he had said something wrong. They shimmered with that apprehension to speak further, and the intruder stumbled a few steps back. In unison, the black-cloaked figure stepped forward slowly.

'Despair' pulled up the sleeve of his cloak, revealing the pale skin of his arm which seemed to burgeon with nearly-exposed veins. With each step he took, the veins began to circulate a pitch-black blood, making his arm seem covered in a marbled texture of midnight. Suddenly, the cloaked figure dashed towards the intruder, raising his arm high in the air with his fingers spread wide.

"If I'm despairing, then there will be no time for you to."

His hand made contact with the intruder's head, grabbing the entirety of the man's skull with his fingers before slamming him into the back wall of the monastery. There was no sound, and only the gleam of the intruder's terrified and slightly crazed eyes could be seen.

With a single movement, the intruder was rendered into a thick red mist that permeated in the air. The remaining flesh and sinew that flew along with shards of bone were plastered against the monastery's wall, dripping towards the floor in heaps of crimson-red muscle fibre and greyish brain tissue.

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