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       Facade of Evil and Other Tales from 'Heathen with Teeth', p.1

           Jonathan Jones
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Facade of Evil and Other Tales from 'Heathen with Teeth'
FACADE OF EVIL

  And other tales from ‘Heathen with Teeth’

  by

  Jonathan Jones

  Façade of Evil, and other tales from ‘Heathen with Teeth’

  Copyright © Jonathan Jones 2015

  Cover design by Jonathan Jones. Cover created using stock images from https://danf83stock.deviantart.com/ and https://swanboy.deviantart.com/

  Jonathan Jones asserts his moral right to be identified as author of this book in accordance with sections 77 & 78 of the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988

  Thank you for downloading this ebook. This book remains the copyrighted property of the author, and may not be redistributed to others for commercial or non-commercial purposes. If you enjoyed this book, please encourage your friends to download their own copy from their favorite authorized retailer. Thank you for your support.

  All characters in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

  Table of Contents

  Façade of Evil

  A Mutual Truth

  Deluge

  The Central Point of Grief

  Façade of Evil

  The house was rotting, corrupted, and spread its malignancy across a large area of land towards the centre of Caldair. As I scouted the exterior, the entire front facing appeared to be warped, the sides bowing out. It was constructed almost entirely from wooden boards, turning green and black in places and crumbling away where life was reclaiming the pillaged tree-flesh. Webs, cocoons and various secretions filled the gaping holes in the walls. Three windows and a single doorway seemed to be limitless pits of darkness that inhaled all joy and hope from the surrounding area—or, at least, what little of those things could be found in Caldair city.

  One of my men, Frank Starsmore, had been pensive on the ride over. Normally the hissing and chugging of our truck would be almost unnoticeable behind his booming camaraderie. That day, the guttural motor sounds had grated on my ear drums, illuminating Frank’s mood far more than silence would have.

  Before we began our mission I pulled him aside, hoping he would spill exactly what was troubling him. Frank didn’t have much a way with words, but he was open and emotionally honest.

  “What’s on your mind, big guy?” I asked. “Like you always say, don’t take it into the mission with you.”

  “It’s the missus,” he grumbled, and walked back to the rest of the unit, gathered by the entrance to the house.

  I made my way inside, night vision goggles activated, my unit of Purifiers following down the passage behind me in prearranged formation. Whatever, whoever, occupied this husk, we had to locate it before it located us. Wooden floorboards and wall panels were bent and splitting and, in each of that dwelling’s mouldering lesions, parasites scuttled and bred.

  The members of the unit were practically indistinguishable in their black and grey uniforms and all-encompassing snake skin masks, with large infrared goggles concealing all identifiable features. But behind those masks they were six very different individuals. Private Billy Prior, our youngest, newest and most conscientious member. Frank Starsmore, our Master of Ashes, deeply devoted to our faith. Then, our Obdurates: Thomas Gibbs, a headstrong and over-confident young man, who hid his intelligence; Leonard Troughton, the most private and introverted of us; and gruff and often disagreeable Adam Fisk. Finally, Corporal Brian Moriah, a fiercely loyal man that all of us looked up to. Only Fisk, Starsmore and Gibbs stood out from the rest of the unit, due to Fisk’s muscular build, Starsmore’s imposing height, and Gibbs’ scrawny frame that he was constantly trying to enhance with exercise.

  Moriah covered me whilst I inspected a room that opened up on the left. I knew I could rely on him to be diligent.

  The room’s door was off one hinge and the bottom corner of it rested on the remains of a blood soaked shirt. The rest of the room took several precious seconds to blur into the view as my night vision goggles adjusted, and I anticipated an attack from the unseen predators within.

  Frank Starsmore stepped in alongside me. It was sometimes difficult to tell the men apart, but he was always easy to identify—over six feet tall and well built, his mask peculiarly bulging around the chin from accommodating his beard. He stepped slightly ahead of me, scanned his head left then right.

  The room was empty. Missing floorboards exposed mangled foundations and an uncovered secret collection of pornography. A small table in the far corner displayed the maggot-riddled remains of a forgotten meal. Along the bottom of the wall lay a stained duvet. I was relieved for the mask I wore as a Purifier, which muted the smell of the room—the mix of decaying meat, damp fabric and urine. Remarkably, beneath all that, I caught a scent of lavender. I couldn’t tell where it was coming from, but it was cloying, and reminded me of days out playing in the fields as a child.

  From the passage, one of the men screamed and the others started to shout and swear. Guns cracked, and muzzle flashes shattered the gloom, dazzling supernovas in the high contrast green.

  I rushed out of the room ready to perforate our foes until they were no longer a threat to anyone. Whatever had attacked us was already gone. It was not even clear where it could have come from and subsequently disappeared to. Fisk was kneeling on the floor, cradling the head of nineteen-year-old Billy Prior. Fisk had removed Billy’s mask, and the boy had time to gurgle “mum” through a fountain of blood before his eyes went dead and his head lolled, revealing the gaping neck wound that had extinguished him so quickly.

  Billy had been a good recruit, dedicated to upholding the ideals of the Purifiers. He had believed in what we were doing and in the importance of doing it right. Sadly, more and more of our new recruits were being conscripted. I didn’t object to this in principal, in fact I thought everyone should contribute to the Realm’s security, but unfortunately it had led to us recruiting too many punks that didn’t want to pull their weight. Billy had been different. My temper flared.

  “What are your orders, Major Turcotte?” Moriah asked.

  “We press on, standard sweep and destroy routine. At least now we know what we’re dealing with.”

  Fisk grunted, staring down at the void in Billy’s neck. “Fallen.”

  “Exalted help us,” Starsmore muttered.

  *

  “We have to be more careful than usual, if Fallen are involved here,” Moriah said as we advanced down the corridor. Under his mask he would be sweating and tender—he had recently contracted something unpleasant in the Dilapidate region of the city, and his face was riddled with unpleasant sores.

  “It’s unlikely they are our target. If Andreas had been aware of them we would have been warned.”

  Fisk huffed, sceptically. I couldn’t help but share his consternation. Luckily, all Purifiers carried Execution pistols at all times, as a precaution. Even though we rarely encountered Fallen, it was still best to always be armed with silver bullets. The one time you didn’t bring one would be the time you became liquid lunch.

  Starsmore was also armed with an additional weapon, one which would have limited use in our tinderbox surroundings, even as damp as they were—a flamethrower. It was an old model, fuelled by a liquid reserve strapped to Frank’s back, rather than the more advanced compressed vapour tanks of modern models.

  We pressed on through the creaking, cracking building. This was my first time leading a mission, as Colonel Andreas Sorotos now had desk duties. I was unhappy with the vagueness of the mission brief: “Makeshift house in East Caldair, investigate and retrieve items of special interest. Expect resistance from inhabitants.”
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  What inhabitants? If Andreas had known about the presence of Fallen, surely he would have said. What were we investigating? “You’ll know it if it’s there,” he had said, unhelpfully. “Bring it to me.”

  I took off my mask and tucked the goggled, snake-skin monstrosity into my belt, provoking concerned and confused looks from the rest of the unit.

  “It’s no good relying on night vision when there are Fallen around,” I said. “I learned that the hard way. They can see better than any human with night vision goggles can. It’s better to have full use of your other senses.”

  I breathed in the rancid air of the house, a cold odour of damp wood, putrefying rubbish and grime. The copper smell of blood. I could already feel my skin beginning to cool, and the sweat drying on my face.

  The others nodded their acceptance of my tactics but they kept their own masks on, and there was uneasy silence. Removing the mask was not just against regulations, it was blasphemy. Without it, without the Dragon’s visage transforming you into a vessel of righteous destruction, were you still a Purifier? Were you an agent of the Exalted or a man acting out his own desires? Were your executions still a cleansing, or murder?

  We approached the end of the corridor, slowly. I didn’t need to tell Fisk and the rest to warn me if they spotted anything through their goggles. They would automatically compensate for any disadvantage, allowing me to focus on the dead house’s sounds, smells, the vibrations and air currents. There was a fast, light pattering above. Rain coming in? Rodents? It was easy to imagine all manner of creatures, some twisted, light-footed Fallen freak, racing around on tip-toe, scuttling up walls and over ceilings at unnatural speeds, contorting as it went.

  I shuddered, and mentally slapped myself. Stay in the moment, stay alert, stay alive.

  Houses like this were becoming rare in Caldair, due to the dwindling number of people with the skill and resources to build them. More and more were finding empty rooms in the ancient hab-blocks. They were derelict and overcrowded, but they had been around since long before this house was build and would still be standing long after this slum was nothing more than a heap of sodden, rotting mulch, a feast for woodlice.

  The room ahead was large, with an expansive window looking out onto the Caldair street, where a couple were screwing against a wall, and an old can clanked and whirred as it span along the cracked paving.

  There was plenty of light creeping in, but little to see. A small cushioned chair lay propped against one wall, a leg missing and stuffing spilling out. The rest of the room was empty. The floorboards were sturdier here and I strode in. The wall opposite the chair housed a cupboard door, and I gestured to Starsmore to open it. He approached it stealthily, taking wide strides, and reached for it with one hand, using his other hand to keep his pistol aimed.

  It wouldn’t open. Given that Starsmore’s strength was even greater than what you’d expect from his size, it had to be either locked or jammed tight. Perhaps the hinges were rusted.

  He yanked at it again. And again, harder. Heaved at it, putting away his gun to pull with both hands, using all of his formidable strength. It should have flown from its hinges, but it didn’t budge at all.

  He turned back to me, shrugging resignedly. “I dunno what to tell you,” he said, keeping his voice low. “Must be sealed.”

  “Want me to smash it down?” Fisk offered.

  Troughton pushed past him. “Oh, give over. Let me try.”

  He tested it, tugging at it gently at first, and it immediately swung open, all the resistance dematerialised. The cupboard was empty.

  “Not been eating your wheats, huh?” Fisk said. “Even Troughton could open it.”

  Fisk and Gibbs repressed sniggers, which quickly grew out of control the more they tried to control them. Frank’s massive shoulders slumped and he wandered away, clearly actually distressed by their teasing, mumbling, “Don’t know what’s the matter with me...”

  “That’s enough.” I wasn’t having our mission jeopardised by an outbreak of immaturity.

  I walked over to the cupboard, convinced that that there must be an explanation. Perhaps it was the entrance to a secret passage, and somebody had been on the other side, holding the door closed. A cursory inspection disproved that theory immediately. There was no handle or similar part on the inside of the door that anyone could have held onto.

  “Don’t know what to tell you, Major,” Gibbs said. “Looks like the cupboard’s bare.”

  A fresh round of sniggers erupted.

  “Shut up,” Moriah growled. They listened.

  I took one last look into the cupboard. No sign of any gaps or joins within. Just an empty, enclosed space, not even large enough for a full grown adult to curl into, except . . .

  There were scratch marks around the door frame, on the inside. Perhaps it was lack of sleep, perhaps overactive imagination getting the better of me for the first time in my life, but I could almost hear the moans and weeping of whoever had been shut in there.

  I led everyone back out of the room and down the corridor, to the only staircase I had spotted on the way in. The route took us back past Billy’s corpse, and Fisk punched a wall as we went. “Fucking Fallen,” he muttered. “This is cos the Realm took in those people from Dezkary. I told everyone. I said, didn’t I, Fallen would sneak in with them.”

  Dezkary was very tolerant of Fallen, and the fear of infiltration when we had let in those refugees had seemingly been on everyone’s minds. I had forced myself to keep quiet when Fisk had started criticising the refugees—complaining about them needing our help, about the risk of Fallen being amongst them, about them causing conflict, about how the Realm should look after injured Purifiers instead, and finally about how ungrateful they were—and had to continue to bite my tongue when other members of the unit took up the mantra. Unfortunately, such attitudes were endorsed by the Realm, who were only allowing refugees in as part of a peace treaty they had been forced into. Although the Liber Colatra taught that to have dissenting thoughts was as bad as rebelling openly, I was much less likely to face the agonising penalties if I kept my mouth shut.

  I sidled up alongside Frank as we walked. “After this,” I said, “I’m going to order you to tell me what’s wrong. Until then, get yourself together.”

  He stopped suddenly and turned to me, arms raised pleadingly. “It’s Tanya. I just... I’m all confused about our marriage.”

  Fisk placed a hand on his shoulder. “You two having trouble? I’m really sorry to hear that.”

  “We just don’t seem to have anything in common, and I don’t know how I feel anymore. We’re just so different, and I’m worrying all the time about what if we can’t be happy forever? But we made a vow to the Exalted, I can’t betray it.”

  Troughton groaned faintly, not understanding that Frank’s loyalty to the Exalted was rotted in his loyalty to his wife. His faith was deadly serious to him, but it was also his filter for all his other feelings. He would very likely put himself through a lifetime of unhappiness rather than face the guilt and wrenching loss that would come with leaving Tanya.

  I sighed and patted his arm. “We’ll talk it over later, over some beers. If I can help you fix things with your wife, I will.”

  We all turned as something sped by, down the corridor and up the stairs, faster than we could see, accompanied by a cold draft and the tang of decomposition.

  Moriah gasped. “I’ve been hurt.”

  “Where?”

  He released the hand that was clutching his arm just below the shoulder, to show me a deep, jagged wound.

  “Fuck, it hurts.”

  “Pass me a med-kit.” I said.

  Gibbs obliged. The others were looking at the ceiling, trying to follow the scratching and shuffling that seemed to shift instantly from one location to another.

  “Fucking Fallen,” Fisk repeated. “I fucking hate Fallen.”

  While they all kept watch, I set to work on the wound, stemming the blood and applying bandag
es. It really did look like a bite mark from a human sized jaw, although the tearing made it hard to be certain. I noted two parallel trails where the tearing was especially deep.

  *

  The only route to the first floor was a rickety staircase with a third of its steps missing or damaged. Halfway up, skewered on the jagged edge of a broken step, was a child’s rag doll. It was torn and covered in dry blood. Perhaps more disturbing than the state of the thing was its original form. Glass eyes shone with malevolent fury, the mouth was crudely stitched in a crooked line. The arms and legs were all different lengths and ended in metal claws. It appeared to have over-sized, misshapen genitals. In place of hair, it bore a crown of sharp-looking needles. What manner of creature had found this comforting?

  We advanced up the steps—carefully, quietly—and inevitably had to take them two or three at a time, to ford the gaps. At the top, the corridor extended in both directions, and more grisly items were pinned to the wall and hung from the ceiling.

  “Which way from here?” Troughton asked. Under his mask, his eyes and lips would be narrowed in thought.

  “Left,” I said. And then, when we reached the top, we all turned right.

  It was such an innocuous error that I failed to even notice it at the time. Without any knowledge of what lay ahead, the choice between left and right may as well have been a coin toss. So did it matter that we all went the wrong way? Of course it did, because it was a mistake that we never normally would have made. Our sense of direction was honed by years of training and more years of practice. Not once had any one of us made such a basic error before. All five of us muddled our left with our right at the same time.

  I got a better look at the grisly objects. Some were versions of the doll on the stairs, nailed in place like dead moths and cut, burned or otherwise mutilated. Some were strangely shaped pieces of root that appeared to bleed. As we progressed they grew more macabre, becoming gruesome trophies, body parts.

  “Fucking Fallen,” Fisk growled. “Sick bastards.”

  “Pipe down,” I responded. “We don’t even know for sure that this is a Fallen. Let’s investigate, and deal with whatever comes our way without letting personal grievances cloud our judgement. Understood?”

 
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