Chapter One: Darque
It is coming
It is coming over me
The smell: the damp, the sulphurous smoke, the musty moth-eaten cloth. Now the metallic tang of rust, the moist deathly smell of rotting meat, the gagging headiness of old shit and piss. Everything wet and moulding, mingling in a putrid mass. I inhale and it catches in my throat, making me cough. And I start to feel - the ache in my lungs, the soft burn along my shoulders, the dark pain in my stomach. The stone is cold against my back, the cloth tunic stuck to my skin, the straw scratching against my bare legs.
Sight begins to return, blurred. I am staring at my lap, my head hanging against my chest. Through dancing spots of light, I see the ropes that bound me in loose coils around my hands. The gold light of their enchantment dies, revealing a natural, black mould. Consciousness is slow... slow. A smouldering fire spreads from the pit of my stomach through my limbs. My heart begins to beat faster.
"I am free." Shh. So used to talking to myself now. Don't say it. Don't even think it. I grab at the rope, which frays and unravels beneath my fingers. One unconscious strain in the dark could have snapped them now that the spell has weakened. I brush the rope from my hands, listening to the thud of its dead body on the floor of my enclosure. I can't stop the smile, so wide my cheeks ache. "Nothing holds me now." Shh. My throat is sore; I barely make a sound.
My creaking joints take an age to move. I rock over onto my knees, slow. My eyes are dim. I can almost hear the wet Shunk sound of my eyelids flapping as I blink. My hands move automatically, find the wire and I push open my enclosure door. "No lock," I whisper. "No need." I sway on the stone ledge, one hand clinging to the wire door, peering out of the alcove lodged in the wall. The soft light of a lamp flickers over me and I fall into it.
I land clumsily, stumbling. My body isn't working right. My head feels thick and my thoughts aren't coming clear. The carpet is soft against my feet and hands. I get a lump in my throat. I could almost cry. "Oh god." By the time I rise, my eyes have adjusted to the light. A snarling, insidious violence twists in my gut at the sight of the paneled walls, the paintings, the bookshelves, the dregs of the fire curling in the grate. This room has been my prison for years. I hate its disgusting homeliness.
And he is sprawled in an armchair next to the fire. "You." I can't stop the words before they're out of my mouth. He is asleep, head tipped back, mouth open. I move towards him, each step making me shiver. "Old man with your slivers of hair plastered across your ugly, spotted, bald skull. Your touch makes me wretch with your wrinkled, leathery hands. And you spit when you talk, always talking of the young maids and hoarding your coins." I stand right in front of his chair. I am shaking, the hatred ripping my insides.
Then I look closer and realise that the face is different. No, it is not him. Is it? Am I wrong? My thoughts tumble, crash into each other. The strength leaves me and I stand looking at him. His clothes are strange – a plain black suit and white shirt. "Is he even wealthy? Is he even my keeper?" I ask the room; it has seen more than me.
Then I see the large, leather-bound volume lying open on his lap. "What is this?" I reach out to touch the edge of the pages. They are brown with age, dry to the touch, full of handwritten script. I cannot understand the writing. Perhaps I know the letters, but cannot understand the words. With a shiver, I see a series of symbols and I know that this means me; this is my name. I feel the knowledge like a stone in my gut, but I cannot recall it.
I slide the book from his lap. He is dead. His fingers are warm, but there is no pulse. I know as soon as I touch him. There is no breath. I turn some of the pages of the book. There are a series of numbers at the top, but again the knowledge is hidden from me. I flick through to the pages at the beginning. The hand of the scribe is different. This language is more familiar to me; it is the common dialect of the eighteenth century. The numbers on the top have counted backwards, through the hundreds.
Some of the words slither through the mental barrier. 'Now... secured... Darque... others unknown.' I say them aloud. "Darque. That is my name. Others? What others?"
Pain hits me in my chest. I wince, crouch, close my eyes as the knowledge smashes its way through the barrier. Others. My brother and sister. This is what my keeper is trying hide from me. I feel it now – a spell woven deep into my skin – the fog of amnesia trying to rise. "No." He cannot make me forget them. His power is fading from me. "My family! My beautiful family!" I will return to them. My brother and sister. "Lowell and Celia." Saying their names aloud, cements them in my memory.
They are dates! The numbers at the top are dates, counting through the hundreds. This old man has been my keeper, but only for the last sixty years judging by the handwriting. They have passed my captivity down the generations. To keep me from Lowell and Celia. "Why?" How could they do this to me? The old urges are rising – the blood – the flesh – the - It's hard to push it back, but I have to - for Lowell and Celia. I must find them. If I find out someone has hurt them, I will - These people kept me away, but they have no power over me now. This man died with no heir and I was released.
How dare he! How dare this man be dead! That he could escape my judgement, my blood, by passing away so soft and quiet in his chair. It is not right. It is not fair. He should have felt my hand strike. This man who never once awoke me from my imprisonment, never once spoke to me – left me static and unknowing, stupidly ignorant. He deserves the worst kind of pain.
I have his head – grasped between my hands, nails tearing the papery skin of his forehead. The dark snake stirs in the depths of my stomach. I twist and snap his neck. The calm comes afterwards, like cool liquid over my skin. Even though he was dead already, a quiet sense of rightness soothes me.
"What was I trying to remember?" I say, removing my hands.
His head flops at an odd angle. I inhale, a new anger fueling my shaking limbs.
I call out: "Lowell! Celia!"