Key of a Killer's Soul
Chapter One: Murderer at Midnight?
Bri sighed contentedly as she dabbled her feet in the icy stream. She had been walking for hours, clearing her head of the day's trivial problems and events. The cool water felt like heaven on her tired feet. The stream gurgled and laughed as it tripped over the stones in its way. The moon was full and bright, making the water shine silver. Bri pushed her floor length black mass of curls aside as she glanced at the dagger at her hip. She often thought about cutting her hair, but she never did. She had had long hair ever since childhood. It just didn't seem right to cut it.
Twigs snapped in the woods behind her. It was never a good idea to let an unknown person come up behind you in the woods, especially at night. Bri stood and slipped quietly into the shadows, draping her hair around her to efficiently hide her in darkness. The soaked parts of her hair clung to her knees and made her shiver, but she clamped her teeth together to keep them silent.
A man stepped out from between the trees, looking around the clearing furtively. A large sack was tied to his belt, weighted down by whatever it held. The man, blonde hair turned silver in the moonlight, stepped to the stream and untied the sting holding the bag to the belt. He glanced around once more. He didn't see Bri. Turning his attention back to the bag, he up ended it, letting its contents fall into the stream with a tremendous 'splash' that caught Bri's attention. She followed the path of the stream, watching the object float. It was round, but not a sphere. It hit a rock in the stream and turned slightly. Bri fought the urge to gasp. In the stream, she met the eyes of the dead. She did not recognize the face. It had been a man, fairly handsome with dark hair and a sweet mouth, now frozen in a final scream. She looked back at the man. Had he been the killer, or was he merely a disposer? She nearly screamed again when she looked at him, and met his eyes. When had he noticed she was there? How had he found her? Had she made some unconscious noise or movement? He spoke, which settled the ramblings of her mind for the moment.
"You have seen me by moonlight, Lisandria. Come to me. For you are the key of my soul."
Bri was no longer held paralyzed by her internal questions. There was no question as to what she should do then. She turned and ran. She was one of the swiftest runners in Craef. There were rumors that her great grandmother had had an affair with a Wind Bringer. They were supposed to be the swiftest runners in the entire world. Though how one could be related to her was a mystery. Wind Bringers didn't reside in Craef. They made their homes in the high mountains or on the vast flat plains. Craef was largely forest, with a few valleys and mountains interspersed. She knew these woods; Hermes' Forest, it was called. Bri had often found amusement in the fact that she felt most at home in the forest of the swiftest God, and that she might be related to a Wind Bringer. Now she used her skill and knowledge to bring her home as soon as possible. The warm torch lights were glinting a welcome as warm as a familiar embrace. Through her heaving breaths, she heard the voice of the Man, though she was nowhere close to hearing distance. His voice echoed in her ears as if she were hearing him in her own mind.
"I shall find you, Lisandria. For my soul will always recognize its key."
Even though her lungs burned with the effort of keeping her speed, she managed to whisper, " I am not Lisandria."
To her shock and horror, he replied, though he should not have been able to hear her.
"You will be."
She sped up, her long black hair a river of curls spread out behind her as she sprinted through the gates of her village. She hadn't managed to slow down before she collided with a solid armored chest of a familiar guard.
"Briana, are you well?" He asked, his strong hands on her arms to steady her. She was still panting, but she managed to say, "I'm fine. Just a little winded. I felt like racing the wind tonight."
Dran looked to the tree line. "There's no wind tonight."
Bri shrugged and said,
"It didn't stick around. No one likes to be beaten in a race." She had her breathe back now, and there was no voice inside her head. She reassured Dran that she was fine, and headed toward her home. Being the third cousin of a princess had its perks. Her house was a grand thing, the richest local woods were put to use, carved with intricate designs that reminded Bri of the wind blowing leaves about in the early autumn. Inside, though, it was nearly bare. The minimum amount of furniture was about, though with plenty of rugs about. Briana liked the feel of the fur rugs under her bare feet and usually stayed barefoot in the house. She took off her cumbersome shoes by the door. They were the fancy shoes that her cousin had insisted she buy for parties and such things. Briana thought they were ridiculous and difficult to walk in. In addition, they made her feet extra tired. Laney, her gray tabby came up and complained at her while she wound around her legs. She had always been extra found of Laney, though she had several cats that came and went as they pleased. Perhaps it was because Laney's blue gray fur matched Bri's eyes almost exactly. She dug up some food for Laney in her surprisingly crowded kitchen. She did not like hired help, as they usually asked too many questions, and disproved of night wanderings in the woods. In fact, any proper housekeeper would disprove of practically all Briana's habits. Thus, Briana did not have a housekeeper. She did most of the cleaning herself, though she absolutely refused to dust. She was fixing herself some soup from a chicken that a local Farmer had given her as payment for her help healing his daughter. It had been a simple case, though the farmer had been most distressed with the answer. The girl had been pregnant. Gold was the payment for the check up. The chicken was for the herbs that would end the pregnancy painlessly and quickly. It had been a simple case but the entire family was grateful. The girl said herself that she wasn't ready to be a mother yet. She wanted to finish training for the Queen first. Men and woman alike, if they trained hard enough, could sign up for assignments to serve the queen. They were often paid, not in gold, but in whatever they most needed. The Queen had quite a bit of the Knowledge in her, and could tell such things by looking at a person's name. It was such an assignment that had gotten Bri a house. Where and what type of house came from having a princess for a third cousin. Though her cousin thought she was crazy to want a house in the 'middle of Boring-Ville', Briana liked the simple quiet of the village and the woods surrounding it were especially appealing. After the three years she had spent here, the guards knew her and her habits, thusly kept a lantern lit on the open gate for her. She was either supposed to turn it out when she came back, or notify a guard when she came back so that the light could be dealt with. Tonight, instead of her usual mending, she went straight to bed. The night's horror had taken much of her energy. She was asleep before her head ever touched the pillow. Unfortunately for her, her dreams would be haunted by mysterious men and severed heads.
When morning came and was half gone, she woke, and listened. No deep voice of a mystery man threaded through her thoughts. She breathed a sigh of relief. She tried to sit up, but found a mass of cats sitting on and around her.
"Ok, little ones, time to get on with the day."
A few opened an eye and gave her a look. She laughed and pushed her way out of the covers and cats. Laney sprang up to weave between her legs as she walked. Bri sauntered down to the kitchen; her house was interesting in the fact that only one room was above the rest of the house. This, of course, was the room she chose to be her bedroom. She made a quick breakfast for herself and any of the random cats that wanted it, and then set to her mending and embroidery. By the next full moon, there was to be a celebration for the Queen's birthday and she had to embroider her dress appropriately. She was just finishing the first half of the embroidery when someone knocked on her door. Setting her sewing aside, she looked out the window. Farmer Gray was outside with a stranger. A stranger that looked very familiar. Farmer Gray knocked again. She had to answer it. making sure her dagger was at her side, she went to the door and opened it.
Farmer gray smiled at her. "Greetings, Lady Briana. I hope I didn't interupt anything."
"Not at all." Bri reasurred him, then looked at the 'stranger'. "And who is this?"
The Farmer stuttered for a moment before saying "This is Crimn, he's passing through and the inn is full. I was thinking that perhaps he could stay the night with you.
"I always welcome a weary traveler. You look familiar. Have we met before?" She asked. Figuring to stick to the half truth. He did look like one of her cousin's consorts.
He smiled, blue eyes crinkling with amusement. "Nay, I've never had the pleasure of your aquantance. Will the Lord Briana be joining us?" He looked expectantly at Briana, then puzzled when the Farmer started laughing.
"No, lad." He said, wiping a tear from his eye. "Lady Briana goes by her first name. As for a husband," He laughed again, "Zeus himself would have a difficult time with her."
Briana laughed with him. "Ah, now, I'm not that bad am I?"
Farmer Gray smiled warmly at her. "Not exactly. But we townsfolk need our rumors and gossip, don't we?"
Bri smiled and nodded. "I suppose that's true. Well, I'd better show Crimn his room and I'm sure Mrs. Gray will be waiting for you at home. Shall I see you both at the Queen's Ball next month?"
Farmer Gray nodded enthusiastically. "The Misses wouldn't miss it for all the gold in Craef. She's been working all month on her dress and Mallia's."
"Oh, is your daughter joining you this year?"
He nodded, as his chest swelled with pride. "Yes, she's come of age this season, and the Missus is insiting that she come to the Queen's Ball before any other so she can get used to it." He laughed. "No doubt that she'll be wore out by the end of the evening. Probably too tired to help drive the horses home."
Briana smiled and bade him safe travels before beckoning Crimn in. As he walked in, she checked his belt. There was no bag big enough for a severed head there. She breathed a sigh of relief. He wasn't the man she saw last night. But he was still out there, looking for her. She shoved the thought aside for later and showed Crimn where he would be staying, in one of the guest rooms, and when he could expect meals. When he heard the times, half past morning, noon, and after midnight, he questioned her hours.
"I'm not a morning person." She explained. He seemed to accept this and excused himself to go to the town for supplies. Bri went back to her mending. She hadn't seen Laney when she was with Crimn. Now she saw her, waiting by the sewing room, eying the door with distaste.
What is the matter with Laney? Briana wondered, as she sat back in her sewing chair and picked up her dress. It was a question that she'd have to answer later.