maandag 29 december 2014

Stone: Chapter 4


            Charles Stone was not easily scared. Certainly, if it was about the accession to the throne and all the problems he encountered in connection with it. He would never become sovereign if he couldn’t find the ring. Where had this good-for-nothing of an uncle put it? After all, had they not searched enough through his chambers? Would he have to search through everything again or would he have to deliver to Joeri Marten what he had promised? The ring finger of Conrad Stone! He chose for the quickest and less spectacular solution and went in the direction of the crypt with the sarcophagi.
            The castle was a real maze for uninitiated ones with all sorts of corridors and chambers, some of them leading into each other. Charles knew it like the back of his hand. In no time, he was by way of the cellar vaults gone to the crypt where all the Kings of the Stone Dynasty lay in state. It was customary to embalm the bodies and to place them in the crypt of the castle.
            When he unlocked the heavy door and pushed them open with a bit of effort, a moldy smell came towards him. It was the smell of death. He denied his feeling of repulsion, it was something he had to do. Otherwise, he would never achieve his aim and how macabre this seemed, he wouldn’t take one step back. Failing wasn’t an option.
            He had asked the legislator about the conditions of the kingship. Nobody, besides the person who had prepared the dead body, knew about the missing ring. Normally this item was kept by the king’s valet in a box after the death of a king and before the crowning of the new one. Now the Kings sword and the crown were in it. But the ring was missing.
            Charles Stone had taken care of this castle valet and this person would keep his mouth shut forever. It didn’t take a great deal of trouble to let the valet disappear. A date in the early evening had been fatal for the servant. The rumor was he went to town the day after the death of King Conrad and was robbed and murdered by thieves. He wouldn’t talk anymore.
            The room with the sarcophagi was lighted with a torch Charles Stone had with him. The light projected creepy figures on the walls of the crypt. One should easily believe in ghosts in this space with all those lugubrious tombs around. The atmosphere was typical for it. Noises were echoed from the walls and sounded eerie. Charles knew this was his imaginations. He swallowed for a moment and went on to the place where he knew the sarcophagus of King Conrad was.
            With great effort, he could shove open the cover of the tomb. It would have been easier with the help of anyone, but Charles trusted no one in the castle. One word to the wrong person and he could forget about the kingship. Your best friend is you and he knew enough with that. It went against the grain with him to call in the help of Joeri Marten. It was a necessary evil. What’s more, he knew the Black Wizards never had been best friends with the dead sovereign. They wouldn’t give him away. He had promised them a legal charter if he should become King Charles I and that provided their cooperation.
            Well, there he was. Conrad Stone, hands crossed over his chest and with an unreal facial expression. He didn’t look the person he was during his life. His face was far sterner and the concave cheeks gave him a skinny look. Charles’s eyes were mesmerized by the right hand of the King. Especially the ring finger without the ring.
            He took his hunting knife and without hesitating he took the cold finger and cut him off the body. He put it into a black little sack that disappeared in one of his coat’s pockets. Charles shoved the stone over the tomb. Nobody had seen what had happened. Nobody had heard a thing. If he should encounter someone on the way back to the living quarters of the castle, he simply would say he had gone praying for the spiritual welfare of his deceased uncle.
            Charles Stone beamed. Now he literally had his future in his pocket. He grinned inside because of the play upon words. However, he didn’t count his eggs before they were hatched. He hoped Joeri could now trace the ring with the cutoff finger, then all his problems would be solved!


            Kemir had followed Kobe’s advice. He had gone with his story to the legislator of Kamardam. Peter Nodin heard his story and strange enough, he wasn’t surprised.
            ‘Young man, your story isn’t an outlier,’ Nodin reacted while he whipped through his beard. ‘This week alone there are five people who were abducted. They weren’t all women, but the Dulka don't make any difference whatsoever if it’s about slaves. They mostly take the persons who are the most vulnerable, women and children, which they train to do all their dirty jobs. I can give you the names of their families, but I fear you’ll find nobody to accompany you. Everyone fears these monstrous beings. They look almost as humans, but their nature is cruel and they have superhuman forces they use when they meet any resistance.’
            The youngster sighed.
            ‘Is there really nobody that can or will help me? This can’t go unpunished. If we do nothing, they’ll return to catch more people. They’ll think of us as defenseless and easy preys.
            Nodin nodded.
            ‘I’ve to admit, but we are not warriors. Our people are farmers and merchants, they know nothing of fighting or weapons. I’m sorry, Kemir Ocain, you can always try, but it is as you say, the trail becomes cold and if you want to see your mother again, you may not lose a minute.’
            Kemir said goodbye to the legislator. He was very disappointed. If he could find this group of men who had kidnapped his mother, maybe even a bigger group of Dulkas if they had regrouped with other abductors, alone he wouldn’t stand a chance.
            And still he would try. His life meant nothing if he would let them escape with his mother. He would never be able to live with himself if he let them escape unpunished.
            When he arrived at the mountain hut, he buried the dead Dulka. The unconscious Dulka unfortunately had disappeared after the kidnapping of his mother. He had to punch harder, those damned monsters deserved no better. He gathered some food together and a water bag and girded the sword of the Dulka to his side. He had saddled White Cloud but would go on foot the first mile and search for the trail with his dog Donk. He conducted White Cloud by the hand, in his other he had a walking cane and an ax upon his back. So he went, following the trail through the shrubberies and into the Forest of Bandar, in pursuit of the kidnappers.


            Theresa Ocain couldn’t act against the brutal force of the Dulkas. One of the monsters had taken her and had thrown her over his shoulders. How much she beat and scratched him, the creature possessed too much strength. She even had tried to break a heavy rock on the head of one of the Dulkas. He had punched her in the face and she had fainted for a while.
            When she came to herself, they walked through the forest. They were four. One of the Dulkas blooded. Kemir probably had wounded him. He got what he deserved. Too bad it wasn’t far worse, she thought embittered.
            The monstrous beings deployed a brisk pace. Theresa tried to look where they brought her. But in the dark her eyes weren’t as good as before. She didn’t fear for her life. If they wanted her dead, she would already be. She thought they wouldn’t rape her either because of her old age, but you never knew.
            The Dulkas growled in a strange accent. Obviously it had been funny because they were chuckling as if they had heard a good joke.
            They arrived at an open place in the forest, where five horses were tied up. Theresa tried one more time to escape by scratching her enemy, but it didn’t succeed. They tied her hands and feet and threw her astride on the back of one of the big horses. After breaking up their camp the leader, a guy still bigger than the rest, gave the order to depart.
            Will I ever see Kemir again, Theresa thought. The despair was enormous. As long as she had the courage and that she thought Kemir could catch up with them she had hoped. Now that they went further on horseback, she suspected Kemir had fewer chances to save her.
            The Forest of Bandar was densely covered and many times they had to dismount in order to clear the way. The river Zifra divided the forest into two parts. It was probably a day’s journey to the river and then they still have to find a place to wade through to get to the other part of the forest. After that, you had the border and Mandros, the country of the Dulkas. Once they were there, all hope of rescue would have been lost.


            ‘Here is your finger, Wizard. It’s your turn now. Can you deliver what you have promised?’ Charles Stone gave him the little black bag with the finger. They had agreed to meet again in The Black Horse and with a mug of beer they were talking about their further plans.
            Joeri Marten took the bag and cast a curious glance at the countenance.
            ‘I will do my best. My master Magister Darius Felten has to do the spell. It’s rather complicated and I myself doesn’t possess the power yet. But I had to lie about the origins of the finger. I’ve told him that it was a question coming from a common citizen. A lost ring from a ‘nobody’ is a whole other matter than the ring of a deceased King.’
            Charles Stone wasn’t impressed with the flimsy excuse Joeri had invented.
            ‘It’s all the same to me if you can tell me where I have to search for this damn ring.’
            ‘You can’t think he will give you the right location to the inch. Magic isn’t a science, however, it leans very closely against. Science learns about natural any phenomenon, cause-and-effect. Magic is created out of nothing. In the best case, the spell will let us see the region where we have to search, with maybe some faint indications of the place where the ring is now. Maybe it’s advisable to keep a group of men ready who can go through this place.’
            ‘Leave that to me now and see to it that I get as fast as possible some news about the ring. I don’t need the finger anymore. You can destroy it after you have used it.’ Charles Stone left the inn and left Joeri Marten speechless behind.’
            Joeri was faced with a dilemma. In fact, he had no choice but that didn’t make it easier. Charles Stone knew he was made a member of the Brotherhood of the Black Wizards with fake references and he used it as extortion against him. Of course, he could tell the truth, but that would mean the end of an education that would give him power. As long as Charles Stone was alive, he would control him. Maybe the collaboration wasn’t so bad, after all. A king or rather a king in the making between his circles of acquaintances could be useful to obtain a much loved position. Royal Wizard! If he wouldn’t destroy the finger after using him for the spell, it would be a counter-pressure against the knowledge Charles Stones possessed against him. Yes, he would do that!

© Rudi J.P. Lejaeghere 29/12/2014

Steen: Hoofdstuk 4


            Karel Steen was voor geen kleintje vervaard. Zeker als het om de troonsopvolging ging en de problemen die hij hieromtrent ondervond. Hij zou nooit geen vorst worden als hij de ring niet zou vinden. Waar had die nietsnut van een nonkel die steen gelaten? Hadden ze toch niet goed gezocht in zijn vertrekken? Zou hij toch nog eens proberen en alles gaan doorzoeken of zou hij hetgeen hij aan Joeri Marten beloofd had, kunnen leveren? De ringvinger van Konrad Steen! Hij koos voor de rapste en de minst opvallende oplossing en ging in de richting van de grafkamer met de sarcofagen.
            Het kasteel was voor onbekenden een echt doolhof met allerlei gangen en kamers die in elkaar uitliepen. Karel kende het als zijn broekzak. Het duurde dan ook geen tijd of hij was via de keldergangen naar de grafkamer gegaan waar alle Koningen van de lijn Steen waren opgebaard. Het was de gewoonte de lichamen te balsemen en ze bij te zetten in de grafkamer van de burcht.
            Toen hij de zware deur ontsloot en ze met enige moeite opendeed, kwam hem een muffe lucht tegemoet. Het was de lucht van de dood. Hij zette zich over zijn weerzin, het moest. Anders zou hij nooit zijn doel bereiken en hoe macaber zijn werk ook mocht lijken, hij zou geen stap achteruit doen. Hij wilde niet falen.
            Hij had bij de wetgever gevraagd naar de voorwaarden van het koningschap. Niemand, buiten de persoon die de koning had afgelegd wist van het ontbreken van de ring. Normaal gezien werd deze na de dood van een koning en voor de kroning door de hofvalet in de daartoe dienende kist bewaard voor de kroning van de opvolger. Daar lag nu het zwaard en de kroon in. Maar de ring ontbrak.
Karel Steen had ervoor gezorgd dat de valet in kwestie voorgoed zijn mond zou houden. Het had hem niet veel moeite gekost om deze te laten verdwijnen. Een afspraakje in de vroege avond was de bediende noodlottig geworden. Het gerucht ging dat hij in het dorp de dag na de dood van Koning Konrad overvallen en vermoord was door dieven. Die zou niet meer spreken.
De kamer met de sarcofagen werd verlicht door de fakkel die Karel Steen had meegebracht. Het licht wierp griezelige figuren op de wanden van de sarcofaagkamer. Men zou in deze ruimte met de griezelige tomben gemakkelijk beginnen geloven in geesten. De sfeer was er typisch voor. Geluiden werden weerkaatst door de muren en klonken akelig. Maar Karel wist dat dit allemaal in zijn geest speelde. Hij slikte even en ging door naar de plaats waar de sarcofaag van Koning Konrad stond.
Met veel inspanning kon hij juist het deksel van de tombe openschuiven. Het zou gemakkelijker gegaan zijn met z’n tweeën, maar Karel vertrouwde niemand in het kasteel. Eén woord aan de verkeerde persoon en hij mocht het koningschap op zijn buik schrijven. Je beste vriend was jezelf en daaraan had hij genoeg. Het stootte hem voor de borst dat hij de hulp van Joeri Marten had moeten inroepen. Maar dat was een noodzakelijk kwaad. Hij wist trouwens dat de Zwarte Magiërs geen vrienden waren geweest van de dode heerser. Zij zouden hem niet verklikken. Hij had hen een wettelijk statuut beloofd indien hij Koning Karel I zou worden en dat hielp hem ook aan hun medewerking.
Daar lag hij dan. Konrad Steen, met de handen gekruist over zijn borst en met een onwerkelijke uitdrukking op zijn gezicht. Hij leek niet meer op de persoon die hij was geweest tijdens zijn leven. Zijn gezichtstrekken waren strenger en ingevallen wangen gaven hem een wat magere uitdrukking. Karels ogen werden getrokken naar zijn rechterhand. Vooral de ringvinger waar er geen ring aan zat.
Hij nam zijn jachtmes en zonder veel te twijfelen nam hij de koude vinger vast en sneed hem van het lichaam. Hij stopte hem in een zwart zakje dat hij op zijn beurt wegstopte in een van zijn binnenzakken van zijn vest. Karel schoof de steen terug over de tombe. Niemand had gezien wat er gebeurd was. Niemand had iets gehoord. Als men hem zou tegenkomen op de terugweg naar de leefkamers van de burcht zou hij gewoon zeggen dat hij wat gaan bidden was voor het zielenheil van zijn overleden oom.
Karel Steen glunderde. Nu had hij letterlijk de toekomst op zak. Hij grijnsde even om de woordspeling. Toch verkocht hij vel van de beer niet voor hij geschoten was. Hij hoopte dat Joeri nu met de vinger de ring kon opsporen, dan zouden al zijn problemen opgelost zijn!


            Kemir had de wijze raad van Kobe opgevolgd. Hij was met zijn verhaal naar de wetgever van Kamardam getrokken. Piet Nodin luisterde naar zijn verhaal en vreemd genoeg was hij niet verbaasd.
            ‘Jongeman, je verhaal is niet een alleenstaand feit,’ reageerde Nodin terwijl hij met zijn hand door zijn baard wreef. ‘Deze week zijn er hier en omstreken een vijftal mensen ontvoerd. Het waren niet allemaal vrouwen maar de Dulka maakt geen onderscheid naar geslacht als het om slaven gaat. Meestal nemen ze de personen die het meest kwetsbaar zijn, vrouwen en kinderen die ze opleiden om al hun vuile werkjes op te knappen. Ik kan je de namen geven van hun gezinsleden, maar ik vrees dat je niemand zal vinden die je zal vergezellen. Iedereen is bevreesd voor deze monsterachtige wezens. Ze zien er bijna uit als mensen, maar hun aard is wreedaardig en ze hebben een bovenmenselijke kracht die ze aanwenden bij de minste tegenstand.’
            De jonge man zuchtte.
            ‘Is er dan niemand die me kan of wil helpen. Dat kan toch zomaar niet ongestraft gebeuren. Als we niets doen, komen ze straks om nog veel meer mensen. Ze zullen ons als weerloos en gemakkelijke prooien vinden.
            Nodin knikte instemmend.
            ‘Ik moet je gelijk geven, maar we zijn geen krijgers. Onze mensen zijn boeren en handelaars en kennen niets van vechten of wapens. Het spijt me echt, Kemir Ocain, je kan het altijd proberen, maar zoals je zegt, het spoor wordt koud en als je je moeder nog wilt weerzien, ga je nu in de achtervolging moeten gaan.’
            Kemir nam afscheid van de wetgever. Hij was er de kop van in. Alleen wist hij dat hij niet veel zou kunnen doen. Als hij de bende zou terugvinden die zijn moeder had ontvoerd, misschien zelfs nog een grotere groep Dulka’s als ze zich verenigden met de andere benden die de andere inwoners had ontvoerd, was hij geen partij voor zo’n grote groep.
            Hij zou het toch proberen. Zijn leven was anders niet veel waard als hij hen zou laten vluchten met zijn moeder. Hij zou met zichzelf niet kunnen leven als hij ze zou laten wegkomen met zo’n daden.
            Toen hij terug bij zijn hut was, begroef hij de dode Dulka. De bewusteloze Dulka was jammer genoeg na de raid op zijn huis en nadat hij de ontvoering van zijn moeder had vastgesteld, verdwenen. Hij had harder moeten slaan, die verdomde monsters verdienden niet beter. Hij verzamelde wat proviand en een waterzak en gordde het zwaard om van de Dulka die hij in het gevecht bewusteloos had geslagen. Hij had Witte Wolk gezadeld, maar zou de eerste mijl te voet gaan en te samen met zijn hond Donk het spoor moeten terugzoeken. Witte Wolk leidde hij aan zijn hand en zijn bijl droeg hij op zijn rug en een wandelstaf in zijn linker. Die kon ook dienen als wapen. Zo vertrok hij, het spoor volgend door de struiken en in het woud van Bandar, in achtervolging van de ontvoerders.


            Theresa Ocain had niets kunnen uitrichten tegen het brute geweld van de Dulka’s. Een van die monsters had haar gegrepen en haar over zijn schouders geworpen. Hoeveel zij ook sloeg en krabde, het wezen had veel te veel macht. Zij had nog geprobeerd een stevige stenen kruik op het hoofd van een van die Dulka’s kapot te slaan. Maar die had haar een vuistslag gegeven zodanig dat ze een tijdje bewusteloos was.
            Toen ze weer bijkwam, liepen ze door het bos. Ze waren met zijn vieren. Een van de Dulka’s bloedde. Kemir had hem waarschijnlijk verwond. Het was zijn verdiende loon. Jammer dat het niet erger was, dacht ze grimmig.
            De monsterlijke wezens zetten er een flinke pas in. Theresa probeerde te kijken waar ze naartoe werd gebracht. Maar in het donker waren haar ogen niet zo goed meer. Ze vreesde niet voor haar leven. Als men ze dood wou, zou dit al lang gebeurd zijn. Ze dacht ook niet dat ze zich wilden vergrijpen aan haar, gezien haar ouderdom, maar je wist maar nooit.
            De Dulka’s gromden in hun vreemd taaltje tegen elkaar. Blijkbaar moest het grappig geweest zijn, want de andere ontvoerders grinnikten alsof ze een goede grap hadden gehoord.
            Ze kwamen bij een open plek in het bos aan, waar er een vijftal paarden waren vastgebonden. Theresa probeerde nogmaals te ontvluchten door haar belager te krabben, maar dat lukte niet. Ze bonden haar handen en voeten en wierpen haar schrijlings over de rug van een van de grote paarden. Nadat ze hun kamp hadden opgebroken had de hoofdman, een kerel die nog groter was dan de rest, het order om te vertrekken.
            Zal ik Kemir ooit nog terug zien, dacht Theresa. De vertwijfeling sloeg toe. Zolang ze nog moed had gehad en dacht dat Kemir hen nog kon inhalen had ze nog een beetje hoop gehad. Nu dat ze verder gingen te paard, vermoedde ze dat Kemir minder kansen had om haar te redden.
            Het Woud van Bandar was dicht begroeid en menige maal moesten ze afstijgen om de weg vrij te maken. De rivier de Zifra sneed het woud in twee delen door. Het was zeker nog een dagreis naar de rivier en dan moesten ze een plaats vinden om die te doorwaden en naar het andere deel van het woud te trekken. Daarna volgde de grens en Mandros, het land van de Dulka’s. Eenmaal ze daar waren, was alle hoop op redding verloren.

            ‘Hier heb je je vinger, Magiër. Nu is het aan je. Kan je de klus klaren?’ Karel Steen gaf hem het zwarte zakje met het nodige kleinood. Ze hadden weer afgesproken in Het Zwarte Paard en voor een kroes bier waren ze hun verdere plannen aan het bespreken.
            Joeri Marten nam het zakje aan en wierp een nieuwsgierige blik in de inhoud ervan.
            ‘Ik zal mijn best doen. Mijn meester Magister Darius Felten moet de bezwering doen. Die is nogal ingewikkeld en ik zelf heb die kracht nog niet. Maar ik heb moeten liegen over de herkomst van de vinger. Ik heb hem verteld dat dit een opdracht was van een gewone burger. Een verloren ring van een niemand is een heel andere zaak dan de ring van een overleden Koning.’
            Karel Steen was niet onder de indruk van de smoes van Joeri.
            ‘Mij gelijk, als je maar kan zeggen waar ik moet zoeken achter deze verdomde ring.’
            ‘Je mag nu niet denken dat hij de locatie tot op de voet zal kunnen weergeven. Magie is geen wetenschap, al leunt die er dikwijls heel dicht aan. De wetenschap leert ons over de natuurverschijnselen, oorzaak en gevolg. Magie is iets scheppen uit niets. In het beste geval, zal de bezweringsspreuk ons laten weten in welke streek we moeten zoeken met misschien enkele schemerige indicaties over het uitzicht van de plaats waar  de ring nu is. Misschien is het aan te raden om een groep mensen klaar te houden die de omgeving van die plaats dan kunnen doorzoeken.’
            ‘Laat dat maar aan mij over, zorg nu maar dat ik zo rap mogelijk nieuws krijg over de ring. De vinger heb ik niet meer nodig. Wil hem na gebruik vernietigen.’ Karel Steen verliet de herberg en liet een verbouwereerde Joeri Marten achter.’
            Joeri zat met een dilemma. Eigenlijk had hij niet te kiezen, maar dat maakte het er niet gemakkelijk op. Karel Steen wist dat hij met vervalste referenties lid geworden was van het verbond van de Magiërs en dat gebruikte hij als pressiemiddel. Hij kon natuurlijk de waarheid vertellen, maar dat zou het einde betekenen van een opleiding die hem macht zou verschaffen. Zolang Karel Steen leefde, zou hij macht over hem hebben. Maar misschien was die samenwerking nog niet zo slecht. Een koning, of liever gezegd een koning in wording onder zijn kennissenkring kon hij misschien gebruiken om een heel geliefde positie te bereiken. Magiër van het hof! Als hij de vinger niet zou vernietigen na gebruik voor de bezwering, zou hij dit als tegengewicht kunnen gebruiken tegenover de kennis die Karel Steen over hem had. Ja, dat zou hij doen!

 © Rudi J.P. Lejaeghere 29/12/2014

zondag 28 december 2014

Requiem: Chapter 7


            Stephen pushed the key 837 in the cavity of the door style from the apartment of Suzy Chang, turned him a quarter to the left and held his eye before the scanner while he told his name. For a moment, he had feared that the memory of the apartment had erased his personal access info and that he wouldn’t get inside. But his suspicions seemed to be unfounded. A liberating click of the lock confirmed the opposite. Now he could turn the key a quarter further and open the door.
            A feeling of sadness had suddenly taken him by surprise and it made him swallow of emotion. Suzy looked at him from the multifunctional mirror, smiled and said, ‘Okairi Nasai! Welcome! Stephen, do you have a moment, I’m not present at this moment. A message is sent to my mobile number, make you comfortable in my home, I will be there quickly.’
            He made a short movement over the built-in sensor at the entrance and the recorded image disappeared and was replaced by the usual info screens. He saw the summary of the last news flashes, the latest stock prices, camera images of the corridor and the rooms of the apartment.
            In the middle of the left open space, he saw his own startled mirror image. Why hadn’t the residency supervisor erased this data out of the memory? Suzy wasn’t here anymore, those insensitive incompetents…!
            Stay calm, he taught a few counts later while he assimilated everything around him. He couldn’t let himself go this way, no one would stand to benefit. Well, maybe it might be a sign of insensitivity of the responsible person who had to look after the media system, but on the other hand, if he had erased it, he never could have entered the apartment.
            The short corridor on the right, as he knew, hide an incorporated vestibule and was decorated on the other side with some photos of Suzy and her mother. There was even one photo out of those long-ago days where all four of them stood upon. Stephen, Suzy, Katy and his own father Thomas March. A party on the occasion of some kind of promotion of his father. A bit further on the left of him was the door to the bathroom and the toilet and further ahead beside the info screen was the entrance of the living room. As he moved, the sensors in the floor and ceiling were following his movements and the space where he walked, was enlightened by ingenious hidden light sources. A medley of his favorite music started. No, they hadn’t messed with the apartment memory. Who knows? Maybe the Security Service had asked so, hoping to get more info this way to help with their investigation.
            Stephen knew out of experience that Suzy was a creature of habit. She invariably noted all her important data, meetings, and other memory aids in her tablet. Possibly he had luck today and something important would fall right into his hands. Stephen supposed that the Security Service had copied everything and that the different memories in the apartments had been screened and looked into. Everything could be a possible guideline to the murderer. So what the Security Service knew he had to discover himself to… if nothing had disappeared. He knew Suzy a lot better than the people of the police. What seemed innocent to them, could mean a lot more for him.
            Through the living room, you could go to the kitchen to the right and on the left side there was a door to the bedroom. Stephen saw directly that her tablet computer lay on the bedside table and took it with him to the living space. There he seated himself on one of the zaisu, a little chair without legs and that rested at the bottom directly on the tatami mat in the living room.          The tablet was secured with fingerprint identification. He suspected this problem had been solved in a macabre sort of manner, he thought embittered. Stephen had his own access code, just like Suzy had on his tablet, with the necessary limitations, of course. His personal fingerprint was screened and he got access to a certain number of applications as there were internet, mail and a few games Suzy and himself liked to play in their free time.
            He opened the application for mail and saw that the usual messages that both she as he had sent to each other. He was surprised to see that there was still one message in ‘Draft’ to send. Stephen opened the mail and read:


Have downloaded a new game. Super, you must try this one, hereby the link to my application and your login data: Passage 6


            Passage 6? The note he had found in her wallet must have referred to this game. Maybe she had noted the login data when she got a hint from a friend to download the game. Well, that mystery was solved anyway. Stephen tapped the link and opened a game that was called ‘Deeplands. While he was reading the title of the game, it sent a shiver down his spine.

            The intention of the game was to kill as many as possible dangerous and gruesome monsters of the imitated underworld and eventually to arrive at the middle of this virtual world. The mission of the game was to kill the creature that ruled over the mutilated creations and who tried constantly to kill you.
            Was this a bad joke or was it a hidden allusion to something important? The only thing he could do to get an answer to this question was to play the game. He was definitely not in the mood. But every hint, how insignificant it was, he couldn’t refrain himself from investigating it. Even if it would achieve nothing, it would create a little diversion for a moment. Just escaping for a while out of a world full of black thoughts. A way to dismiss the images of the horrible identification. He raised himself up and put his coat away, nestled himself – while trying to handle carefully his injured leg – in one of the easy seats of the apartment and started:

 ‘New game!


            The man pulled fiercely and anxiously on his chains by which he injured his already heavy wounded wrists. They were stripped and glimmers of blood fled down along his stretched arms. You could follow the flow of the red life fluid over his body and legs to a little puddle on his feet. A part of it was clotted. After a short while, he became tired and stopped his useless attempts. The exhaustion was too great and hopelessly he let himself hang in his shackles. The man could hardly stand on his legs, which were also enchained.
            He cried sobbing, whining, begging: ‘Please, I’ve got money,… I… I will do everything you want… mercy… please let me free… have mercy.’ The words came with delays and hesitations, gasping almost in the sobbing in his throat and the sounds of despair that came out of his mouth became louder as the white figure with the sword approached.
            The man didn’t notice that the oncoming executioner in the white clothing pushed a button in the side wall. Silently the first sounds of classical music were heard in the background, but soon they grow in loudness and plunged the whole space in a frightening way in a creepy atmosphere.

Tuba mirum spargens sonum
Per sepulcra regionum
Coget omnes ante thronum

            The man with the sword knew what the words meant. Who had taught him the meaning of these words was a mystery, but he understood what was sung.

The trumpet will send its wondrous sound
Throughout earth's sepulchers
And gather all before the throne.

            The victim stopped sobbing, listened, the eyes in his face bulge of incomprehension and fear. In spite of the fact that he didn’t recognize the music, he came super fast to awareness. The translation, that his executioner spit him in the face while he was marching back and forth before him, was clear.

Judex ergo cum sedebit
Quidquid latet apparebit
Nil inultum remanebit.

When the judge takes his place,
What is hidden will be revealed,
Nothing will remain unavenged.
The tormented man suspected that this was his death song. The last song, a requiem. A goodbye at him from the world and he shouted with all his force left in his tortured body: ‘Nóóóóóó!’


            When Stephen had managed to master the controls of the game ‘Deeplands’ after a short tutorial, he started concentrating to play the new game. With the game viewer that looked like darkly tinted diving glasses with electrodes he had attached to his temples and by which the computer application of the game that was connected wirelessly with the table, he moved virtually in the game.
            Through a transparent screen – a rectangle filled with different possible game options – he could point out the necessary instructions that lead him to the different stages of the game. It was an action-adventure game that should bring the main character along difficult roads to his ultimate objective. Stephen March had played several of such games since his youth. Not that he was excellent in it, but he could compete.
            With the years, his reaction speed for the action-part in this sort of games had become rusty. Stephen was more the ‘adventure-part of the game’ guy. The searching after solutions, to find the hidden clues, was more fun to him than the shooting or stabbing of virtual adversaries. To undergo the experience how the game developed by solving the necessary puzzles on the way was a kick apart. It was also a test of the insight and the intelligence of the player. By disclosing these mysteries and opening closed doors which would bring him to still more dangerous paths, he hoped to find a trace of Suzy’s murderer.
            In starting up the game, he had given in his own name for the main character in Deeplands. So he heard the eventual directions in the game as if the personalities were talking directly to him. The graphics were mega cool. The high resolution and the 3D-effect made it almost impossible to see the difference between things in the real world. That Stephen used his first name in the game was obvious to him. Knowing Suzy, if there was a clue, he had to play it this way.        
            After the first level, he got stronger weapons at his disposal. On the other hand, of course, the challenges became more dangerous and the monsters bigger and more difficult to conquer. Gradually he got the right rhythm and Stephen became again for a moment the adolescent who could be so focused in a game that he closed himself out of the outside world. He heard nor saw what was happening outside the game. After a few hours, with all the frustrations and fiasco’s that were inherent to the game – moments he must go back to earlier saved games – the virtual Stephen arrived before a door. A door, whereupon in big letters was written ‘Furious’.
            Startled, he paused for a moment, shook his head surprised by the word he read. Stephen imagined that Suzy clearly wanted to say something with that. This was it. Suzy had to let install here an item that clearly didn’t belong to the original game. Furious was the hypocorism she used for Stephen when he as an adolescent was a short-tempered youngster.
            Stephen stood before a door without a key. A mechanical voice asked: ‘Who are you?’ When he gave his name and nothing happened, he tried just to knock. With just as much luck, the door stayed closed for him. With the name Furious, he also had no success.. The door stayed closed. To be on the safe side, he saved the game. A simple push with his virtual hand on the S of ‘Save’ on the bottom right side in the transparent box he saw in his game viewer, took care that he later on could go back to this point of the game. At least if he figured out how he could open the door.

copyright Rudi J.P. Lejaeghere

vrijdag 26 december 2014

Bloodrage: Chapter 2


            He had memories from a way back in time. Flashes of images which were shooting through his head without having power over them. Brow. That was his name or at least ‘one’ of his many names. They lived in caves, sheltered from the scorching sun that made the sand boil or against the destructive winds that tore through the plains.
            It was a whole other language they were talking then. Many gestures added by hard sounds that came from deep out of his throat. He pointed at one of the drawings on the walls of the cave. Images of slaughter, pictures of the bloodshed in his name. The blood of the little animals was only a drop in the ocean. Then the buffaloes came and the wildebeests and sometimes also a saber-toothed cat if they were lucky to cross his path. Also, eventually, this was too little to quench his thirst.
            He had seen the mammoth when he had made a reconnoitering expedition on the mountain ridge. The majestic creature was grazing in the valley that bordered on the lowland. Fangs, which were at least two times the size of himself gave the animal something unapproachable. It was a bull, a male, which was cast off by his own group to wander on the plains and lived a lonely existence. Nonetheless, he had approached the animal against the wind, it had noticed him. The animal had turned itself to him and had trumpeted loudly, letting him know he didn’t appreciate the company.
            Brow had returned with dreams about a hunt that was still more exciting and bloody than the tribe ever had experienced. His best men were called together and with a stick he drew on the ground where they could find the beast. With a deep grumbling, two of his men disapproved killing this holy animal. Brow growled back at them and quickly took a stone in his hand and attacked them without warning. He hit around him and despite the men stood up for him the best they could, they fell under a series of punches on the ground. Blood was flowing out of different wounds out of the heads of these men and their faces were distorted by wounds and fractures. He left them where they had fallen, humiliated in death and an example for everyone who tried to oppose him.
            In the early morning, they had left. Armed to the teeth with sticks, knives, spears and ropes made of dried intestines, which were intertwined, they went on a hunt. The biggest prey that walked on the surface.
            After a day’s walking, they had looked at the animal from the ridge. Some of them were frightened but didn’t have the courage to show or say it. Brow wouldn’t have mercy on them. Others of his tribe knew that when they would conquer this monster they would’ve passed a border. They wouldn’t be as before. Their name and fame would proceed them and for that they would take the danger dying with pleasure.
            Brow was smarter than the members of the tribe altogether. He gave orders to a part of them to make a surrounding movement and hunt the animal. After obeying this order, the warriors jumped out of the semi-long grass and made a lot of noises so that the animal was startled and ran away in the opposite direction. The rest of the group waited there to harass him with spears. The mammoth turned again to the other side and was received by this group with the same weapons.
            Brow repeated this tactical movement uninterrupted. Two of his tribe risked to come too close to the beast and were spiked on the long fangs. Their blood flowed over the white fangs. This battle lasted for about an hour. The beast little by little got tired. Brow and his men threw their ropes after which the animal stumbled and fell. With a deafening cry, everybody jumped on the lying beast and thwack and stabbed the agonizing mammoth as much as they could. It didn’t last long before Brow, who had the privilege, stabbed the long spear through the heart of the mammoth. The animal lay still after it had spiked a reckless man on his fangs.
            With his sharpest knife, Brow opened the chest of the mammoth-bull and pushed his weapon into the right place between the ribs through the heart. The heart still pumped up one time the blood that spattered on his face and flowed over his naked chest. The mammoth had died.
            When the first mammoth in a loud cheering and shouting of his tribe members breathed his last, he finally could satisfy his thirst. He burrowed himself in the body of the dead animal as a glutton that was starving.
            A group of men who meanwhile had kept them aside came suddenly closer to the mammoth. As if he had an extra sense, Brow turned around and knew the battle wasn’t fought yet. He realized these men would challenge his leadership. This was how their world was.
            The renegade warriors attacked immediately without warning. Brow fought like a devil. With his knife in one hand and his spear with the other, he waved around him. His own blood from different wounds blended with the blood of the mammoth. He didn’t falter. The white of his eyes was ominously glinting in blood red face. He sliced with his first attack the throat of two of them. A few seconds later, when one of the men stumbled, he opened with a strike of his knife his stomach so that the bowels bulged out of their protecting skin. The last two warriors surrendered, but they were stabbed through the heart without mercy by the conqueror.
            Brow turned on his axis, heavy breathing and looking if there were still candidates to follow the tribe members in death. Everyone was kneeling and bowed their heads as a sign of obedience. He felt the power of the blood of his men flowing through him. Much better than the mammoth blood, but today he had both. He could hold on this a long time.


            Vladimir Sango had hiked to the log cabin of Daniël Ainsworth where he had washed himself and had pulled on other clothes. He now possessed the memories of this mortal, but the man’s soul had died if he ever had a soul. Ainsworth had always been a wicked psychopath who as spider steadily and patient waited for his victim.
            It didn’t matter to him if they were young or old, women or men. He got a kick out of their last glances, the moment when they realized they would die. He loved the panic in their eyes, their scare and their astringent cries when he took them to his log cabin. He bound them and tortured them till eventually he thought it was time to kill them. Ainsworth didn’t know how many victims he had made. He would keep doing this till someone murdered him.
            All these memories flowed through the head of Vladimir. He knew these were only some of the many of them he had taken over the centuries. New bodies and new bloody memories. Never had he felt stronger. In this century of high tech, the violence of the blood was alive more than ever. He had seen and heard news flashes about wars in the East, but also about troubles and riots in African countries, where a human life had no value.
            He had to keep the identity of this man to be not conspicuous in this society. However, the normal activities of this man would end. There would be no more victims taken to the log cabin to be cut into pieces and buried in the forest. There would be no more victims of Daniël Ainsworth, no more missing persons or abducted children due to the account of this maniac.
            Vladimir felt he would belong in this time. But at night he would hunt the prey he loved the most. No vampire would still be safe for him. Centuries long they were his enemies. He who could walk in daylight without being burned in flames. He, who had also lived by shedding the blood. Vladimir didn’t know where this deep rooted hatred came from. It was old, as old that maybe was created in the becoming of this earth. A concept, a piece of energy that in a certain way was clenched into a body. A thought that was burned with the spark of creation. A force nobody in this world could understand, not even him.
            However, he knew the urge. He knew how it felt to shrivel up from the inside when the blood didn’t flow, the thirst he got if he could not satisfy it with an abundance of violence. His heart did beat for real, if he could tear someone in pieces and drink out of his cut open throat. He wasn’t happy before he could do this to one of the nightwalkers, one of this baleful bloodsuckers who made the night unsafe. Maybe he was just the counterweight for these creatures, made to preserve the delicate balance. 
            He wouldn’t rest before the vampire community was decimated. Fortunately, he had not to sleep or rest during the day as the vampires, not even at night like these frailty humans. He didn’t need all this and could always draw from this inexhaustible source of power of… blood!!!

© Rudi J.P. Lejaeghere 26/12/2014

Bloeddorst: Hoofdstuk 2


            Hij had herinneringen die heel ver terug gingen. Flitsen van beelden die door zijn hoofd schoten zonder dat hij er macht over had. Brow was zijn naam geweest, of toch één van zijn vele namen. Ze leefden in grotten, beschut voor de verzengende zon die het zand deed koken of voor de verwoestende winden die de vlakten over raasden.
            Het was een geheel andere taal die ze toen spraken. Veel gebaren werden bijgezet door harde klanken die uit diep van zijn keel kwamen. Hij wees naar een van de tekeningen op de muren in de rots. Beelden van slachtingen, beelden van bloed vergoten in zijn naam. Het bloed van de kleinere dieren was enkel een druppel op een hete plaat geweest. Toen kwamen de buffels en de gnoes en soms ook een sabeltijger als ze geluk hadden om zijn pad te kruisen. Uiteindelijk bleek dit ook te kort te schieten om zijn dorst te lessen.
Hij had de mammoet gezien toen hij een verkenningstocht op de heuvelrug had gedaan. Het majestueuze dier was in de vallei die aan de vlakte grensde aan het grazen. Slagtanden die zeker twee maal zo groot waren als hijzelf gaven het dier iets ongenaakbaars. Het was een stier, een mannetje die uit de groep verstoten was en eenzaam dwalend over de vlakte zijn eenzaam bestaan leidde. Niettegenstaande hij tegen de wind het dier had beslopen, had het hem bemerkt. Het dier had zich naar hem gekeerd en eenmaal met een luid getrompet laten weten dat hij geen gezelschap op prijs stelde.
Brow was teruggekeerd met dromen over een jacht die nog spannender en bloediger zou zijn dan wat de stam ooit had meegemaakt. Zijn beste mannen werden samengeroepen en met een stok tekende hij op de  grond waar het dier zich moest bevinden. Met een diep gebrom keurden twee van zijn mannen het niet goed om dit heilig dier te doden. Brow gromde terug en nam snel een steen in zijn hand en viel ze aan zonder waarschuwing. Hij sloeg rond zich en niettegenstaande de mannen zich tot het uiterste verdedigden, vielen ze onder zijn regen van slagen op de grond. Het bloed liep uit verschillend wonden uit hun hoofd en hun gezicht was vervormd door de wonden en breuken. Hij liet ze liggen waar ze gevallen waren, vernederd in de dood en als voorbeeld voor iedereen die tegen hem in ging.
’s Morgens bij het eerste licht waren ze vertrokken. Tot de tanden gewapend met stokken, messen en speren, met touwen gemaakt van gedroogde darmen die ineengestrengeld waren, gingen ze op jacht. De grootste prooi die er rondliep op de vlakte.
Na een voettocht van een dag, hadden ze van op de heuvel het dier bekeken. Er waren onder hen die bang waren maar het niet durfden tonen of zeggen. Brow zou geen genade kennen. Anderen van zijn stam wisten dat wanneer ze dit monster zouden kunnen overwinnen ze een grens zouden gepasseerd zijn. Ze zouden niet meer zijn als voorheen. Hun naam en faam zouden hun voorgaan en daarvoor wilden ze het gevaar voor hun leven bijnemen.
Brow was slimmer dan al zijn stamleden te samen. Hij gaf bevelen aan een deel van hen om een omtrekkende beweging te maken en het dier op te jagen. Na dit bevel opgevolgd te hebben sprongen de krijgers uit het halflange gras en maakten veel lawaai waarop het dier schrok en zich in de tegenovergestelde richting uit de voeten maakte. Daar wachtte de rest van de groep hem op die hem bestookte met hun speren. De mammoet keerde zich terug naar de andere kant en werd door dit groepje met dezelfde wapens onthaald.
Brow herhaalde deze beweging gedurende een hele tijd. Twee van de stamleden waagden zich te dicht bij het beest en werden op de lange slagtanden gespietst. Hun bloed liep over de witte slagtanden. Zo duurde de strijd bijna een uur. Het beest geraakte langzamerhand vermoeid. Brow en zijn mannen  wierpen nu hun koorden waarop het dier struikelde en viel. Met een oorverdovende kreet wierp iedereen zich op het gevelde beest en knuppelde en stak de zieltogende mammoet zoveel men maar kon. Het duurde niet lang vooraleer Brow, die het voorrecht had, de lange speer in het hart van de mammoet stak. Het dier lag stil na nog een roekeloze man aan zijn standen te hebben geregen.
Met zijn scherpste mes haalde Brow de borst open van de mammoetstier en dreef op de juiste plaats tussen de ribben zijn wapen door het hart. Het laatste opgepompte bloed spatte in zijn gezicht en vloeide over zijn blote borst. De mammoet was gestorven.
Toen zijn eerste mammoet onder luid gejoel en geschreeuw van zijn stamgenoten zijn laatste adem uitblies, kon hij de roep van het bloed eindelijk stillen. Hij groef zich in het lijf van het gestorven grote dier als een veelvraat die uitgehongerd was.
Een groepje mannen die zich ondertussen afzijdig hadden gehouden, kwamen nu plotseling dichter bij de mammoet. Alsof hij een extra zintuig had, draaide Brow zich om en wist dat zijn strijd nog niet geleverd was. Hij wist dat deze mannen zijn leiderschap wilden uitdagen. Zo was hun wereld.
De afvallige krijgers vielen direct aan, zonder te waarschuwen. Brow streed als een duivel. Met zijn mes in de ene hand en zijn speer in de andere zwaaide en stak hij om zich heen. Zijn eigen bloed uit verschillende wonden vermengde zich met het bloed van de mammoet. Maar hij versaagde niet. Het wit van zijn ogen schitterde onheilspellend in de zijn bloedrood gezicht. Hij sneed bij zijn eerste aanval twee van hen de keel over. Enkele seconden later, toen een van de aanvallers struikelde sneed hij die met een haal zijn buik open, waardoor de darmen uit hun beschermende huid puilden. De laatste twee strijders gaven zich over maar werden zonder genade door het hart gestoken door de overwinnaar.
Brow draaide rond zijn as, hevig ademend en om zich heen kijkend of er nog gegadigden waren om hun stamgenoten in de dood te volgen. Iedereen zakte op zijn knie en boog het hoofd als teken van onderwerping. Hij voelde de kracht van het bloed van zijn mannen door hem vloeien. Veel beter dan het mammoetbloed, maar vandaag had hij ze allebei gehad. Hier zou hij lang op kunnen teren.


            Vladimir Sango was naar de blokhut getrokken van Daniël Ainsworth waar hij zich had gewassen en ander kleren had aangetrokken. Hij had de herinneringen van deze sterveling er nu bij gekregen maar de ziel van deze man was nu gestorven, als hij ooit al een ziel had gehad. Ainsworth was altijd al een verderfelijke psychopaat geweest die als een spin in zijn web steeds geduldig wachtte op een slachtoffer.
Het maakte hem niet uit of ze jong of oud waren, vrouwen of mannen.  Waar hij op kickte was hun laatste blikken, het moment wanneer ze beseften dat ze zouden sterven. Hij hield van de paniek in hun ogen, de schrik en hun bloedstollende kreten als hij ze meenam naar zijn blokhut. Hij bond hen vast en martelde ze tot hij uiteindelijk vond dat het tijd was om ze te doden. Ainsworth wist niet hoeveel slachtoffers hij had gemaakt. Hij zou blijven doorgaan tot men hem zelf doodmaakte.
Al deze herinneringen vlogen door het hoofd van Vladimir. Hij wist dat het maar een van de vele waren die hij door de eeuwen had overgenomen. Nieuwe lichamen en nieuwe bloederige herinneringen. Nooit had hij zich sterker gevoeld. In deze eeuw van technologische hoogstandjes leefde het geweld van het bloed nooit meer dan tevoren. Hij had nieuwsberichten gehoord en gezien over oorlogen in het Oosten, maar ook over onrusten en opstanden in Afrikaanse landen, waar men het niet nauw nam met een mensenleven.
Hij moest de identiteit van deze man aanhouden om niet op te vallen in deze maatschappij. De normale activiteiten van deze man zouden echter ophouden. Hij zou geen slachtoffers meer meenemen naar de blokhut en hen daarna versnijden en begraven in het woud. Er zouden geen slachtoffers meer zijn van Daniel Ainsworth, er zouden geen vermisten en ontvoerde kinderen meer bijkomen die op de naam van deze maniak zouden geschreven worden.
            Vladimir voelde dat hij in deze tijd zou thuishoren. Maar ’s nachts zou hij op jacht gaan op de prooi die hij het liefst opjaagde. Geen enkele vampier zou nou veilig zijn voor hem. Ze waren al eeuwenlang zijn vijanden. Hij die tijdens de dag kon rondlopen zonder in vlammen op te gaan. Hij die ook leefde van het vergieten van het bloed. Vladimir wist niet van waar deze diepgewortelde haat kwam. Het was oud, zo oud dat het misschien ontstaan was bij de wording van de aarde. Een begrip, een stuk energie die op de bepaalde manier in een lichaam werd gebald. Een gedachte die met de vonk van de schepping werd gebrand. Een kracht die niemand op aarde kon begrijpen, hij zelfs niet.
Maar hij wist wat de drang was. Hij wist hoe het voelde op van binnen uit te verschrompelen als hij het bloed niet deed vloeien, de dorst die hij kreeg als hij die niet kon lessen met een overmaat aan geweld. Zijn hart klopte pas echt als hij iemand in stukken kon rijten en drinken uit zijn opengesneden keel. Maar echt gelukkig was hij als hij het kon doen met een van die nachtlopers, een van die verderfelijke bloedzuigers die de nacht onveilig maakte. Misschien was hij enkel het tegengewicht voor deze wezens, geschapen om het wankel evenwicht te bewaren.
Hij zou niet rusten voor de vampiergemeenschap gedecimeerd was. Gelukkig moest hij niet slapen of rusten tijdens de dag als de vampiers, zelfs niet ’s nacht zoals die zwakke mensen. Hij had dit allemaal niet nodig en kon altijd verder putten uit die onuitputtelijke bron van kracht van…het bloed!!!

© Rudi J.P. Lejaeghere 26/12/2014

Requiem: Chapter 6


Inspector Norino Vastai once again read the note that was sent to him by post. Despite all the efforts of his colleagues to identify the sender of the note, these attempts hadn’t achieved a thing. It turned out impossible to trace the person in question through finding the address on the note.
The laser codification of the letter indicated that the note was posted at the post-office box 2509 Sanctuary. But even with the numerous fixed cameras in the streets or the mobile spybots that supervised some parts of the city they couldn’t screen all the post-office boxes. Maybe it would have been possible, knowing that they had to keep an eye on the particular post-office box and programming a number of the cameras in the proximity. After investigation of the post-office box in question, it showed out that it was standing in a dead corner. Coincidence or meant?
            Not that Norino Vastai, in the first instance, couldn’t ‘read’ the text or that he didn’t know who had written these superlative strange words. The databases from before the Big War were fortunately saved for humanity and had already revealed the name of the original writer of these words. It seemed they had an excerpt in possession of the ‘Requiem’ of Mozart. Unfortunately, the translation of this text wasn’t available anymore in the databases of the Security Service and it was in a language he didn’t speak. History from before the annihilation of a great deal of the world was a piece of relic and a silent witness of how men had managed to realize their own downfall. There were books, pieces of music, biographies, pictures of monuments and sights and many other things in these databases. He looked at the graceful handwriting and read the note again.

Dies irae, dies illa
Solvet seaeclum in favilla,
Test David cum Sybilla.

Quantus tremor et futurus.
Quando Judex est venturus
Cuncta stricte discurrus.

            The department fingerprints hadn’t discovered anything useful in this piece of paper. It was of a recycled kind that could be bought anywhere – real paper had become too expensive – and the chemical examination of the ink or potentially DNA on the paper had resulted in nothing. No rare kind of ink that would push them in a certain direction or store. Just an immaculate written piece of paper without traces on it.
            Luckily, there is a silver lining to every cloud and one of his colleagues had besides his diploma in criminology and a few other references also taken some classical and old languages. A dead language as Latin wasn’t incorporated anymore in the school schedules of the New World. The official language was English, both in the business world as in the world of science. Even people in the medical sector who still used at the beginning of the 21st century a lot of Latin had relinquished. But now Norino was glad to appeal to this bit of knowledge of his colleague. A translation bureau should have been again an extra item on his monthly expense note. A thing where the management would carp about or pinch and scrape. That’s why he could read now on an annexed digital note of his colleague, the translation of this strange anonymous message:
  Day of wrath, day of anger
  Will dissolve the world in ashes,
              As foretold by David and the Sibyl.

  A great trembling there will be
             When the Judge descends from heaven
             To examine all things closely.

To be complete, his colleague and translator had written under it: ‘Excerpt and translation out of the “Requiem” of Mozart.
            Normally they wouldn’t have passed ‘this’ message to Norino Vastai. But below the Latin text there was a question written in a stylish way. A question that wasn’t in Latin. It was written in Norino’s national language. Words he had already read ten times and that did frown the Chief Inspector.
            Who is next after Suzy Chang?


            He was naked and sat in a lotus position on the cold a gray concrete. Motionless, as if he was a tailor’s dummy or a waxen figure. Eyes closed. Only the vertical and horizontal movement behind his closed eyelids witnessed that he wasn’t a lifeless puppet, but a living creature and that this person obviously found himself in a phase of REM-sleep.
            Images of blood, screaming and howling filled his dreams. A smile was carved around his lips. He heard the begging and praying for forgiveness, the weeping of his victims in the awareness of their sins. Sinners whom he had put in the right direction. Someone who realized his mistakes and begged for forgiveness could get mercy. The mercy in death. Wiping out their crimes in the washing of their own blood, which was the only way to cleanse them of their sins.
            Between his hands that rested relaxed on his knees was an erection clearly visible. In this way, he stayed about half an hour in his world of horror and death, without giving any expression of life. Then suddenly, in one fluent movement out of his sitting position he rose and opened his eyes at the same time.
            Before him, there was a little platform, a sort of altar where he had exhibited different items. On one side of these items were four candles casting creepy shadows over the coarse walls. His naked figure was projected in multiple on the walls of the room. A sinister game of shadows.
            He caressed with respect the altar and the items he had collected. Fetishes, evidence of his conquests, the lost sheep, the saved herd. How long it was, that he was busy to bring the mislead ones on the right path. He carefully took a lock of hair that he had wrapped in a transparent plastic foil, opened the package and smelled with passion in it, folded it up again and put it back in place. And so he did with all the objects that were on the altar.
            ‘Exaudi orationem meam, ad te omnis caro veniet. Hear my prayer, to You all flesh will come,’ he murmured meditative in Latin while he took a little piece of skin the size of a coin in his both hands and sacrificed it to the picture behind the altar. After these rituals, he took the Nihonto out of his rack that was also on the altar and removed it from the sheath, which he putted back in the rack.
            He turned around to the right where there was another door. A door that led to another space that was just as shadowy as the room with the altar. On a hook on the left side of the door hung a white clothing that he draped over him. Two holes in the linen at eye level made it possible to find his way. He opened the door of the other room and left the intimacy of his personal temple.
            In the room, a man had been attached to the wall with heavy chains. When the white appearance entered the room the man had barely moved his head. Still, he had heard something and a whining sound came out of his throat cutting by marrow and bone. It was fear that was squeezed out of the prisoner’s throat. A sound swelled into a roar according as the white shape approached.


            Tired but satisfied I swept the sweat out of my eyes. After an intensive training where I had accomplished all the movements of the ‘Kami Akai’ in a sham fight against my imaginary opponent, my stress was ‘almost’ completely vanished. A series of 120 movements that flowed into each other in a perfect symmetry was the basis of martial arts in which I had been taught from my seventh year of my life. There were indeed combinations with lesser movements according to the situation of application.
But in my frustration and physical necessity, I had worked the whole series. Both my body as my spirit needed it. They both had to react actively in a drill session that was built out of many defensive but also offensive movements. The interaction always had a calming effect on me. It was an interaction of different functions of the body. The eye reflexes that should react to the counter movement, the control of the breath in connection with the scrutinizing of the fight situation, in case you had a real opponent, everything was of importance. All these matters had to interact so that at the end of a session you felt a lot better by the disengaged endorphin. A positive reaction to the mass of negative aggression that was built in one’s system during a certain period.
That was the only way to find the balance according to my father, Arturo Mitsukai, also my mentor in the Kami Akai. Roughly translated Kami Akai means Red Spirits. The adept in this martial arts has to be as a ghost, one moment facing his adversary, the other moment, looking down as conqueror on his knocked down opponent. The red of Akai stands for the power of the sun. The force by which you strike, the warmth of the energy that is released and by which you scorched the enemy.
            It wasn’t just a coincidence that I had chosen the Dojo ‘Shogi’ for my training. It was indeed the Dojo where a number of the member of the Skeelers practiced their martial arts. Ji Lang, an old acquaintance since I was ten, who was also educated under the same Master, came by on a regular base and he maybe was the person who could help me. Today he had an appointment at four o’clock in the afternoon. I had received this info at the desk by putting all my charms in the ring. Sometimes it gave better results that a round of fighting. Just a quarter of sweating out on the conveyor belt and then I had a few pressing questions to ask.        
Ji entered the Dojo punctually at four o’clock. He owned the Red Circle just like me. The next best degree in Kami Akai. The Masters were the only ones, who, after many years, having the Red Circle could earn the Golden Circle. The red sun, which on his strongest and his highest point becomes a golden ball. That’s why this was the highest title in the Kami Akai, the best of the best. After a period of defending the Red Circle you could, according to the rules of the Kami Akai, perform a series of ten tests, a sort of a final examination. Who succeeded without mistakes received the Golden Circle. It was for each of them an ordeal of their many years of experience and knowledge that they had gathered in this martial art. So it wasn’t so astonishing that few were attributed this honor.
            I came towards Ji and bowed with my right hand against my heart. Ji smiled and greeted back. ‘My condolences Yukiko,’ were his first words. I thanked him for his sympathies. It was an automatic reaction. So many people had done it already and I didn’t doubt their sympathy, but my reaction came out without thinking, I wouldn’t take a deeper look. I just hoped that they didn’t cause offense.
            ‘It’s a long time we’ve seen,’ Ji continued. ‘What brings you here today? Out of shape?’ he teased. We did get along well, my father always had thought of him as a humble and promising student. ‘On the contrary, I’m really in shape, maybe I can beat you,’ I challenged him.
            Ji Lang couldn’t refuse this challenge and pointed grinning at the free mat on his left side. We took our start position, greeted following the rules and began to move around each other like two tigers in an exploring phase. Both Ji as I tried at first some feinting movements. To test the action and reaction of the opponent. I knew from before that Ji sometimes was too confident and mostly attacked too soon. Just for this reason he often came to close in my stroking area. I had to count in that it could also be a feint or a provocation maneuver.           
            I tried an offensive movement and got indeed an example of the power of his dangerous left one. I had forgotten about his famous left one. I felt the power of the Kami Akai and counted some stars, shook my head and re-adjusted my defense. Faking that I wasn’t recovered from his first attack, Ji walked in with both eyes open in my setting up a trap. This time anyway!
            Now I dodged his zooming left, felt the power splashing open over my head and disappearing. With a mowing leg movement, Li was knocked down by me. After that he asked for a revenge and won, also after a long game of exploring and feinting movements, I laid in the end on my belly in a hold just before the finishing stroke. It was a battle with some of the expert examples of Kami Akai and the persons present stopped their training during the fight to watch this fight between two Red Circles. We eventually even got an appreciation applause after each round.
            After the second round, I made a crossed sign with my arms over my chest as a sign that I’d like to stop the game. We had both won one battle and that was good for my next step, certainly after Ji Lang had won the last.
            After we had freshened up after the game, we came back as agreed in the welcome hall of the Shogi. ‘Hey, Ji, may I offer you something in the bar, to celebrate our reunion, what do you think? Milk is still your favorite beverage?’ I smiled.
            Ji frowned, playing the displeased. ‘What a stupid question, Yu, you know that white stuff is the ultimate drug for me?’ It was his joke, with which he had put many on the wrong leg. To those who didn’t know him, they thought he spoke about cocaine, but Ji was deadly serious when he mentioned his glass of milk. ‘Let it come, Yu. I wouldn’t refuse that. Let’s party!’ Unintentional I was thinking of Gekko with his awkward yells in strange languages. Anyway, Ji spoke far better English. Both Chinese as Japanese had quite some problems with the pronunciation of English, nonetheless in the 22nd century English was used as the official language because of multicultural communities both in the Old as in the New World.
            In the bar, we told each other our adventures of the last year after he had repeated his condolences for the loss of my parents. We retrieved old memories together, what both did us good. To break the ice, this has been always the right method. But eventually I asked him the question why I was here.
            ‘You have lost some friends too with the Skeelers, haven’t you? I thought I had read that?’ I started probing.
            ‘Oh, don’t let me start, a very unappetizing matter, Yukiko. It still goes around in my head that Myo and Dakai aren’t here anymore. To lose your life in such a bloody way. Mutilated and eventually decapitated, I cannot think about it. When I should get the perpetrator in my hands, I don’t know if I could control myself. I wouldn’t stop before the finishing stroke!’
            He stared at his glass of milk with an angry look on his face and for a moment I thought it would burst into pieces, so white his knuckles came.
            ‘Ji, I don’t know if this is a coincidence, it cannot be, but my parents have died, in the same way. Maybe we can join efforts and try to know something more because what the Security Service have let us know is anything, but worth mentioning, you should even think they withholding things from us.’
            I told him about my visit with Gerekko Dai and mentioned the illegal break-in on the system of the Security Service. Ji frowned a moment, but then I saw it was with a smile on his lips, so reassured I went on after a moment of hesitation. ‘That Stephen March, would he know something more? Have you still elements in these murders that could take us further?
            ‘Maybe I have something better yet…,’ he let the silence build some tension after those words and looked at me right in the eyes with his head a bit squinted. ‘A Skeeler has seen the kidnapping of Myo and Dakai and has possibly more information about that murderous animal. Who knows, it can be something to help us find the killer!’
Now I looked him right in the eyes. ‘So you also want just like me to start an independent little investigation after the murderer or murderers, are we clear about this?’
‘Ji nodded. ‘I get no support for this with the other Skeelers,’ he explained, ‘you know the government don’t like gangs and so. They condone if we stay between the drawn lines. But my friend I was speaking of is probably the only one who thinks differently. Besides, we have set up an import and export firm together, dealing art objects that yielded quite an amount of money.’
I was given hope, you never know, all those little clues could result in one good trace. ‘Where does he live, what’s his name…?
            Ji smiled because of my enthusiasm. ‘Still the inpatient Yu as before, always to the point. We call him Eagle Eye for a long time yet. Ask me why?’
            ‘Why?’ What a willing and obedient girl I was!
            ‘At a riot a decade ago, he has lost one of his eyes,’ told Ji. ‘Still, it hasn’t beaten him and with the implantation of bionic body parts nowadays in such a case it could work miracles. And so they implanted a high-tech eye. Sometimes a man is better with one of these intelligent implantations. He sees thousand times better than before with his new eye. Just like an eagle that can look kilometers away,’ Ji smiled. ‘Plus the extra’s you get with such an intelligent eye like the projection of internet data or incoming mail through a link with your mobile. You cannot forget the zoom and record possibilities and certain things I even don’t understand. Even if he is becoming a bit of a machine, you are far better off with two of them,’ Ji decided. He had always been a supporter of technological masterpieces.
            With a last gulp, he emptied his beverage, took his vest and motioned me to go. ‘Enough talking, come with me to our humble residence in the city suburb. I meant the ‘Swift’, the meeting place of the Skeelers. I’ll just introduce him to you and we will see if we have a useful trace.

copyright Rudi J.P. Lejaeghere