To defame to devour the.., p.3
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       To Defame, To Devour: The Prequel to a Time-Travel Adventure, p.3

           Lewis J Jones
 
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  Within a single step, hundreds of hours and thousands of minutes had rushed past, and Cackrich was now standing in what, on first glance, he thought was a wildly overgrown forest. Thick vines and shrouds of leaves flooded everywhere with all lucid shades of green. It wasn't until he spotted the large chandelier on the ceiling strangled in overgrowth, and the web of vines which clad the walls of a once lavish palace, that he sighed with relief: the key had brought him to the right place.

  Cackrich leant back on the door. He rolled his head to the side so his ear was pressed against it. He could hear nothing more of what lay on the other side, and as he put the key in and turned it three times to the right and two to the left, there was a multitude of clicks as the connection between the two times was severed. Cackrich knew that now, in the time his feet were standing in, it was over a month before Ardwick had even stepped foot in Travesty Abbey.

  Someone cleared their throat and Cackrich jolted, spinning around to find a man standing further down the corridor. He was a particularly short, squat man, with ratty red hair and whose clothes were torn and ragged around every hem and edge.

  ‘This way, Whitsnare is waiting,’ the man said in a gruff voice. ‘Don't touch the walls.’ The man trotted away as fast as his stumpy legs would allow, prompting Cackrich to follow him.

  They moved along the dark tunnel that was once a corridor filled with marble floors and lavish paintings. As they went, Cackrich spotted a number of mirrors upon the walls, each smashed and with their fragments swallowed amongst the bed of weeds. The rooms they passed were tastefully furnished, however all the items in every room were broken, smashed or completely destroyed.

  The short man made a sharp turn left and Cackrich was lead in to a very large, dark room. From the ceiling ahead of him a number of bodies hung, tied up by their feet, each wrapped in thick white rope as though they had been mummified. Long gone were the days when Cackrich convinced himself that they were simply sleeping. To the right of this scene, further into the room, three people stood.

  ‘Whitsnare is waiting for you,’ the man repeated before stepping aside. He bowed his head, letting Cackrich make his way over to them alone.

  ‘Thank you,’ Cackrich said anxiously.

  Proceeding alone, Cackrich could see the two people standing in the centre of the room more clearly. The pair were completely motionless, like the hanging bodies, however these two were quite alive and alert. The younger one had his hand stretched out before him, holding a weapon point blank in the face of the elder man opposite him. The second man had his hands frozen at his side, his eyes staring to his right.

  Following the man’s terrified gaze, Cackrich spotted the third figure, the man he had come to see, facing the grand window and staring out into the night. Whitsnare was a very tall man whose presence was magnified by his swathing black cloak. Knowing Whitsnare was in the middle of something important, Cackrich simply stood and watched the scene unfold. All was silent in the room except for the crackle of the overgrowth gently creeping through the crevices in the ceiling, expanding its reach. It was a minute sound but one that felt powerful enough to break the incredibly tense atmosphere.

  ‘What is this about?’ the younger of the two men abruptly shouted. 'Who is this man and why am I here? I found out where they went, I found that, no one else!’

  Although he couldn't see all of his face, Cackrich knew exactly who was standing before him from just these few words. His name was Gershwin, a man like himself in only one way, and that was his allegiance to Whitsnare. Aside from this point Cackrich knew Gershwin to be quite unlike himself — an irritable, argumentative and intellectually challenged person who only had himself to blame for being in Whitsnare's formidable presence. Although Gershwin did not know what was to come, Cackrich was certain that just by being called as Whitsnare's audience meant that he wasn’t long for this world.

  Whitsnare did not turn away from the window and so Gershwin tried to reign in his blubbering, to portray a demeanour that was worthy of Whitsnare's attention. ‘Tell me why I am here!' he attempted to demand. 'I have a family!’

  ‘Don’t worry, they won’t have to put up with you for much longer now,’ Whitsnare replied with a cool snap to his succinct words. His head turned slightly to the side. ‘Would you consider the man opposite you to be family?’

  Cackrich watched Gershwin study the man opposite him, frown at him with his judgemental, squinting eyes, and then shake his head. ‘I don’t know this man. I know things are . . . I can’t remember some details after Ardwick shot me down but,’ he turned to Whitsnare and then back to the silent man before him. ‘I don’t know you . . . do I?’

  The elder man watched Gershwin's eyes try to pierce his, to discover just who he was, but he didn’t nod or shake his head. There was only pain in his eyes. A sad, lonely pain.

  Gershwin's fat lips dropped at either side of his mouth. ‘I don’t think I know him.’

  ‘Would you bet your life on it?’ Whitsnare replied, his words echoing eerily around the room.

  The little Cackrich could see of Gershwin's expression reminded him of the memory he had witnessed from Ardwick over a month from now, in Travesty Abbey. Wearing the same dark suit and long green tailcoat, Gershwin looked just as confused as when he presented the evidence to Ardwick of where the Evergreens had escaped to. The same dumbfounded look was still etched onto his face as Ardwick shot him down and ran away with the evidence himself.

  As Gershwin took a moment to gather his pathetic thoughts, Cackrich studied the man opposite him. He was vaguely familiar but in a way he could not understand. He was a rather thin and lanky man who was at least forty to fifty years older than Gershwin. Just how he fitted into this series of unfortunate events Cackrich could not determine, but he was eager to see.

  ‘Do you know how many times you almost got away from me?’ Whitsnare said, still facing the large oval-shaped window.

  ‘What do you mean?’ Gershwin replied.

  Whitsnare turned around and Gershwin inhaled. With his deep-set eyes and ghostly, bony face, he looked almost like a white walking skeleton swathed in black. His incredibly pale skin reminded Cackrich of frost on the fields and how it glowed in the winter sunrise, and although his feet could barely be seen beneath his long cloak, his footsteps echoed through the room in heavy, but swift thumps as he made his way over to the men.

  ‘You misunderstand. How many times you almost got away — how many times you almost died,' Whitsnare reiterated. A cloud hovering high above him illuminated, following him to the centre of the room as if it was under his pensive spell. 'I’m told your heart stopped beating four times. Each time I demanded they bring you back. You’ve already died four times, Gershwin. The fifth time won’t see you returning.’

  The elder man struggled, trying to move his head. His eyes whipped back and forth in his skull, the light above him drawing out the true mixture of confusion and fear upon his face.

  Hands joined and resting in front of him, Whitsnare continued to stare at Gershwin. ‘You let the records get away. Because of you, the gentleman standing three feet to your right had to spend a long time searching for the man who carried that secret after you let it escape. That cost him valuable time, cost me great effort, to secure that. We have that information now.’

  ‘But Ardwick shot me down! He said he couldn't have anyone else know where they had gone! I was going to bring them to you!’ Gershwin fought back.

  Whitsnare glanced to Cackrich who gave his head a subtle shake, confirming Gershwin's guilt.

  Cackrich knew that Gershwin was going to take the evidence straight to Whitsnare, to prove his worth that he had found where they had escaped to — the twenty-first century. Ardwick had told him as much, and Cackrich had believed him. But Cackrich didn't quite like Gershwin, and knew his pointless existence would be better off being buried six feet deeper than where it was currently standing. He gave his head another shake for good measure, prompting Whitsnare to turn his wicked eyes
to Gershwin.

  ‘And now you must be punished for your actions.’

  There was a giggle of delight from the corner of the room and Cackrich noticed a group, their shadows standing silently, watching the scene. There was about six or seven of them, but so rich were their shadows that they amassed perfectly into the darkness. They too, like himself, were Whitsnare’s followers, however they were gathered here today for one reason only, and that was to find out the news of the Evergreens' disappearance. The light from the cloud did not reach as far as the group, and Cackrich knew that even if it had it wouldn’t have shown them; some laws laid down by nature and physics could be manipulated by firm and often unworthy hands.

  ‘But he attacked me!' Gershwin continued, defiant on winning this already-won argument. 'I went to Ardwick saying that I had found the evidence, I showed him it and then as soon as I went to leave, to bring it straight to you, he attacked me and took it! Nearly killed me so he did!’ Gershwin stamped his foot to the ground in his defence. ‘He is the one that deserves to die!’

  ‘It has already been seen to,’ Whitsnare replied, still staring at him. He then turned slowly to the elder man on his other side. ‘Is this what happened?’

  Gershwin turned to Whitsnare with hot aggravation rushing through him. ‘What are you asking him for? He wasn’t there!’

  ‘But he was,’ Whitsnare replied. ‘He saw the whole thing.’

  ‘That’s not possible — apart from Ardwick and me that place was empty!’

  Cackrich knew, again, that Gershwin was very much correct. The library from Ardwick's memory, where he was searching through the remaining records of the past for any possible hint or clue as to the Evergreen's escape, was empty apart from Gershwin. Even if there was someone else in the building, the room where Ardwick attacked Gershwin was completely deserted.

  This time Whitsnare did not look for Cackrich's support in the matter. Turning back, he moved closer to Gershwin and stared deep into his dull but very much alive eyes.

  ‘But it is very much possible. It is a certainty; undeniable.’

  ‘Wh-what the hell are you on about — ’ Gershwin went to reply, but he stopped. The furrows of his face eased away as he quickly began to understand something that everyone else in the room seemed to know of. Cackrich, unknowing of what Whitsnare had planned, kept a neutral expression, although he saw a shuffle and guffaw from the group of shadows on the opposite side of the room. He knew something else was going on here, much deeper than his initial instincts made him aware of.

  ‘Why can’t this man speak?’ Gershwin finally asked in a calm, mouse-like voice as Whitsnare backed away. ‘What would he say if he could?’

  ‘I’m sure he could tell you many stories. Teach you many lessons, tell you many things that would make your life easier to bear.’ Whitsnare did not smile or show any expression, but Cackrich could see behind his naturally vindictive-looking face that some kind of thrill was shooting through his veins.

  ‘I couldn’t have him spoil the surprise,’ Whitsnare said, ‘or the guilt you are about to feel. We had his vocal cords cut.’

  Gershwin audibly gulped. ‘What surprise?’

  It was obvious that the conversation taking place was all just the build up to the wicked reveal that Whitsnare had ready and waiting to spring upon the two men. Whitsnare would never let his victims leave without making sure they understood the severity of their mistakes — a lesson which often came in the form of a severe punishment, but never in the way one would expect. Very rarely would Whitsnare actually commit an act of murder. Cackrich had never seen him kill someone before. There were much more wicked things which could be done, that then had to be lived with. These reaped much bigger satisfaction for Whitsnare, and more often than not the desire of death was too strong to resist for the guilty party. But what Whitsnare had planned this time, Cackrich could in no way fathom.

  A smile broke over Whitsnare’s mouth for a fleeting second before subsiding. ‘Inject him.’

  Gershwin whipped his head around, trying to decipher what was going to happen next. ‘Inject me — with what? WITH WHAT?’ he screamed as his muscles trembled, trying to break free from his restraints.

  Cackrich instinctively looked to the thick brown straps around both Gershwin's and the elder man's wrists. He knew they originated from the depths and depravities of the Crowning, used as a device to immobilise and overtly control the bodies of others — typically traitors. Cackrich drove his gaze down their bodies and spotted the same devices around their ankles; they were locked solidly in place.

  It was only as Gershwin's troubled cries sank into a feeble whimper that a quiet, high-pitched giggle reverberated all around them, and a witch-like lady emerged from the group of shadows. Dressed in a black dress stitched together from lots of different dark materials, and wearing a frayed hat with a netted veil spreading down over her face, Orvitica was the perfect disillusioned, crazed individual to deliver the injection.

  Within her crooked hands Orvitica carried a small vial of red fluid with a long needle protruding out of one end. Stepping before Whitsnare, she pushed her face in front of Gershwin's, to within biting distance, moving it all around to inspect every inch of him. She gave a long, gratifying sniff and leaned back to wave the vial at him.

  ‘What are you doing with — what are you, no — no!' Gershwin shouted as Orvitica turned the sharp end towards him, directly in line with the tear duct of his eye. 'No! You dare you spiteful lady, stupid little -’

  ‘Keep stilled — Don’t! Still yourself! Stop it!’ Orvitica said, her grammar dented by her twitching madness. ‘In the eye, yes?’

  Whitsnare turned away and walked back to the window. The elder man closed his eyes — the one action he had left under his control — unable to watch as she leaned back, doing practice run ups and stopping only mere centimetres from the needle penetrating Gershwin's flitting eyes.

  ‘Twisted, stupid scubberrut! Pathetic little . . .’ Gershwin hissed as he trembled, trying with all his might to break free from the restraints around his wrists and ankles that held him locked in place.

  With a childish glee about her, Orvitica lined up the needle with his eye, leant back, and then plunged it straight into his face.

  Cackrich turned away as Orvitica pushed down on the plunger. Her delightfully twisted laugh drowned out Gershwin's screams as they broke into an angry gargled curse. Looking instead over Whitsnare's shoulder and through the window he was facing, Cackrich could see the great night sky lit up by a raging wildfire. Amongst the clouds and the flames which stretched stories high, the remnants of a burning city could be seen, its buildings crumbling amongst themselves.

  ‘Thank you, Orvitica,’ Whitsnare said, making his way back over to his victims.

  ‘My pleasure … my pleasure,’ she said in a screechy, witch-like voice. She bowed low, pulling the needle out as carelessly as plucking a dart from a dartboard, prompting another set of cries from Gershwin.

  As she skipped joyfully back to the shadows, Cackrich noticed that something unnatural was happening to Gershwin. He was transforming before everyone’s hateful, watching eyes. His body began to tremble, his fingers jolting out as though he was being shocked over and over. His head snapped this way and that, his breaths now sharp pants between his increasingly louder groaning.

  ‘Do you feel that?' Whitsnare's said, sweeping in to stand between the two men. 'All that rage. All that anger and bile and -’ Whitsnare gripped his hands into fists at his side before slowly unclenching them, ‘- all that hate? How it just floods through you . . .’

  Cackrich had his eyes set firmly on the silver weapon, similar to his own, held tight in Gershwin’s outstretched hand. The triggerless weapon emitted a low hum every now and then as it’s owner shook with rage. Finally Gershwin started to twitch as madly as Orvitica did naturally, his bloodshot eyes bulging from their sockets.

  Whitsnare walked around the other side of Gershwin. ‘Just let it take control, let it ru
sh away with you . . .’

  ‘No, please stop it!’ Gershwin screamed behind gritted teeth as the red light at the end of his weapon lit up. The silenced man opposite him stared at it, grimacing as it was pointed only inches away from his forehead. ‘Please!’ Gershwin begged.

  The group of shadows was laughing and jeering, enjoying the spectacle.

  ‘He is weak, he deserves it . . .’ Whitsnare whispered into Gershwin’s ear.

  The red light pulsated again. ‘No! I won’t, … I won’t!'

  ‘Let it feed off your hatred for the weak . . .’

  ‘No please!’

  The weapon was now trembling of its own accord in Gershwin’s hand. The light was so bright that the whole room and the sliming overgrowth was bathed in vivid red. ‘Make it stop!’

  ‘Only you can do that,’ Whitsnare replied in sickly voice, his eyes staring straight into the miniature sun burning at the end of the weapon.

  'Please make it stop!’

  ‘Let it take ahold, and then let it go -’

  In an instance quicker than the blink of an eye, Gershwin screamed one final time as the blinding red light shot from his weapon, striking the elder man opposite him who slumped in the air. As his heart beat its last, the shackles released him and he fell to the floor.

  The scene had unfolded before Cackrich’s eager eyes, but yet he did not know what he had seen. His own endeavours had always resulted in the loss of life, but never in the same vicinity as he. Even Ardwick’s end he had not seen, taking place behind closed doors and over four weeks from now, yet only fifteen minutes previously. Life was always planned to be extinguished away from him, yet life had been blown out like a candle but five feet from him. To have seen the life stripped from someone with his own eyes made him question what, if anything, still kept him human anymore. It was a dilemma he had built a bridge over before, and no doubt would be one he would face again in the future.

  Gershwin continued to pant and seethe, but as quickly as the anger had risen it began to dissipate; his muscles which had bunched up around his shoulders eased back to position and the closed his eyes as the weapon was removed from his hand. Although the drug had now passed through his system, he was still shaking.

  The stumpy man then rushed over to Gershwin and released the restraints one by one. Removing the thick strap around his wrist, which pulsed its victim’s muscles with strong shocks to tense them in place, his outstretched arm slapped back against his side. As his other arm and then his feet were freed, he instantly collapsed to the floor.

  Whitsnare moved in again, having distanced himself for a brief moment, and leaned over the useless mass that was Gershwin. ‘Are you certain you haven’t seen that face before?’ he said quietly. ‘Those same old eyes . . .’

  It suddenly clicked and Gershwin, who would have exploded into yet another wild rage but minutes before, simply began to weep.

  ‘The man laying before you is you,’ Whitsnare said, cutting straight to the fact. He continued to stare down at the two Gershwin's as he wiped his hands roughly on a sheet of cloth before throwing it aside. ‘You killed yourself in this very room. The reason he knew exactly what had happened was because he had lived it like you had lived it. Exactly the same. He was there in that room when Ardwick tried to kill you, exactly the same as you.'

  Looking between the two Gershwins, Cackrich now saw the obvious. The same deep grey eyes, the same flat face and rough, unkept hair. Almost like a mirror had been slotted between them, everything was the same on either side yet at the same time it was completely different. They were the same man, just at two different points in his life. It was almost cruel that time distanced them greater than any physical barrier ever could.

  Everything in the room was silent again, except for the creeping of the overgrowth all around them and Whitsnare’s slow footsteps as he came to stand between the bodies of the two Gershwins. ‘No doubt you will remember this day for years to come, dare I say decades. You will go from standing on my right,' he cast his right hand out, 'and having the power to do with your life anything you wish, to standing on my left,' he cast out the left, 'and having no power over your fate at all. And now you get to live out your days knowing that this day will come again for you and that there is nothing you can do to change it. That, Gershwin, is your punishment.’

  Gershwin’s arms were visibly shaking as he pushed himself on to his knees. It was almost as if he was going to pray over his own body. ‘H-How ol-old was he?’ He mumbled, tears trembling from his rapidly blinking eyes as his head remained locked, facing forward. ‘HOW OLD?’

  Taking a breath and readying a reply, Whitsnare suddenly stopped. Instead he looked at the stumpy servant boy who had lead Cackrich in, who rushed forward and dragged Gershwin up to his feet. Standing barely an inch from his nose, Whitsnare drilled his eyes into Gershwin’s.

  ‘I will not tell you how many ages old he was. I will keep that secret to myself, like the secret you failed to share with me regarding where the Evergreens escaped to.’ With a final look down to his shaky legs and then up to his face again, Whitsnare turned away simply saying, ‘You are a free man, Gershwin. Leave us.’

  There was another snigger from the group of shadows as Gershwin stood still, numb and dumbfounded by what had transpired. Cackrich watched him intently to see what he would do next, but he knew that any move was the wrong move; a move towards the fixed point of his own death which had taken place before his very own eyes and by his very own hand. All thought of Gershwin vanished however, when Cackrich looked up to find Whitsnare staring at him. Thoughts flummoxed through his head and his stomach twisted.

  ‘I have obtained the memory you requested, sir. I coaxed the truth out of Ardwick regarding the disappearance of the Evergreens.’

  'Quite your skill set, coaxing,’ Whitsnare replied, coming to stand before Cackrich.

  With Whitsnare having walked right past him, and everyone now ignoring his existence entirely, Gershwin slowly limped away out of sight, or care, from anyone in the room.

  ‘Indeed sir.’ Cackrich cleared his throat and removed the ephemor from his pocket.

  Taking it from him, Whitsnare walked away to face the window again and gripping the glass bulb he closed his eyes, reliving the memory fresh in his mind for only him to see.

  One minute passed, and then another. Everyone watched and waited with held breaths; Whitsnare’s reactions could sometimes be small and succinct, or violent and volatile. No one could disclaim that the life of everyone in the room hung in the balance.

  When the light from the bulb dimmed and the memory ended, Whitsnare pocketed the ephemor and continued to face out of the window. Cackrich watched his head turn towards the fire raging in the sky, high amongst the clouds and over the distant silhouette of the city of London.

  ‘Puellinsia has been burning for months now, but today is the day when its back finally breaks and it falls from the sky. The curtain comes down on this time, and we, too, must leave.’

  There was another excited snigger from the group of shadows. Cackrich could only see Orvitica amongst them, sneering madly to herself behind her veil. It was only as Whitsnare turned around that all noise fell flat. ‘I know the century to which they have fled,’ he said, and he glanced from the shadows over to Cackrich. ‘It is time,’ he declared.

  The stumpy man moved with thudding footsteps over to the deceased Gershwin and removed a ball of white string from his pocket. Holding it out in his palm it began to unwind, its end slithering out to begin wrapping the body. As it did, the string began to thicken, like bandages crawling around the cooling skin to mummify the remains. A large set of double doors opened behind the group of shadows, who walked off through them, followed soon after by the stumpy man with the cocooned body in tow.

  Cackrich went to leave but Whitsnare, having returned to face the window again, unexpectedly spoke.

  ‘Your efforts are to be commended, Cackrich. I will see to your reward in due course.’

&nb
sp; Although Whitsnare could not see him, Cackrich bowed. ‘Thank you sir.’

  The doors on the other side of the room closed, sealing Cackrich in Whitsnare’s presence. He looked over his master’s shoulder and to the flames engulfing the sky. Amongst them the remnants of large white buildings were burning bright against the dark, starless sky. There was an explosion amongst them as a series of lightning bolts struck the floating city. The shockwave that followed cracked the window before Whitsnare, whilst others in the room shattered completely, making the long curtains in the room whip around. The hanging bodies behind Cackrich did not sway in the wind.

  With a loud grumble, the mass in the sky began to break apart; towers and skyscrapers collapsed, falling like dominoes over the edge and plummeting down to the earth with the grace of tower-sized feathers. Upon hitting the ground they exploded silently, throwing momentary glimpses of light over the silhouette of London.

  'I know you have a fascination with misguiding the truth, Cackrich, but do not ever lie to me again,' Whitsnare said, referring to his earlier damnation of Gershwin.

  A flood of fresh anxiety bubbled in Cackrich's stomach. He paused, choosing his words carefully. 'Of course, sir.'

  ‘As this time comes to an end, another is about to begin. The Evergreens left this place at the end of everything, and we too must travel with the times.'

  'What will you do to the Evergreens when you find them?’ Cackrich said, but the stupidity of his question instantly burned his tongue. By framing the family for the first murder in one hundred years Whitsnare had defamed them as the most heartless, heinous and heretical beings alive. Now all that remained was to devour them in his dark and wicked ways to uncover the truth of what he was certain they possessed: the most coveted item in all of history. 'They will not be expecting us,’ Cackrich said, amending his final words.

  Debris came crashing down in the distance, engulfing the skyline in brilliant, blinding explosions. Plumes of white smoke billowed into sky, bright against the dark fabric of the night sky. Whitsnare turned around, and only briefly glanced at Cackrich before walking off through the room with only his final words to spare: ‘I look forward to seeing them again. Best not keep them waiting.’

  THE END

  Keep reading to continue the adventure with An Empire of Dreams!

  THE ADVENTURE CONTINUES

  ON THE NEXT PAGE!

  As a thank you for reading To Defame, To Devour, you can continue the story right away by reading the beginning of An Empire of Dreams.

  Follow the Evergreens on their whirlwind adventure through time as they search for a way to prove their innocence. The synopsis reads as follows:

  AN EMPIRE OF DREAMS

  Some criminals will travel miles to escape.

  Some will travel centuries ...

  The Evergreen family have just been framed for the first murder in one hundred years.

  The future is crumbling and everything is ending, and it's all because of them.

  Their only hope for freedom lies further than they could have ever imagined ... in a young boy called Alex, from centuries before, on the night his parents mysteriously disappear.

  What can possibly tie together a criminal family from the distant future and a twelve year old boy from 1993?

  As destinies collide and the dark forces that framed the Evergreens rise, hunting them down through time, can Alex help the family discover the secrets to their innocence before it's too late?

  Start reading today - the adventure continues on the next page!

  AN EMPIRE OF DREAMS

  — CHAPTER ONE —

  The Fleeing Family

 
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