Nasty, Brutish, and Short
Evil Flash Fiction by Patrick M. Tracy

Bronar Returns 5: Most Solemn and Consigned to Outer Dark

By Patrick M. Tracy

“I remember when you were a child, when I was your cherished friend, and you confided all things to me. This was before you learned the fear of your own power, and the distrust of me.” The Night Wolf, standing in the strange, indistinct fields of Tahni’s mind, touched a clawed and bestial hand to his chest. His lupine eyes filled with pathos as he considered this memory. Strange how familiar his home inside her was. How it called out to something and someone she had once been, so long ago as to seem like another person’s recollections.

“That isn’t true. That’s a fiction you made up, or I made up in order to assuage my own guilt.” Her voice, even with the acid of fear upon it, seemed unsure, even to her own ears.

She watched the Night Wolf, his eyes like the night sky and filled with all that same nameless sadness. He stood like a man, moonlight shining on his coat, tall above the soughing grass. A creature in his full power, stronger even than a few months before. Stronger than she could easily imagine. He said nothing against her words, but only waited, waited for them to reverberate inside the dream, decaying into things no longer words or human sounds. 

A memory Tahni couldn’t recall tickled at the corners of her mind. She had never…never known him until she finally came into her power, accepting it. Never known that face or the full truth of him. There had always been something. The great nimbus of a fated thing, casting its shadow across her steps, forever filling her with a sense that she had been built wrong, built by angry hands for a dark purpose. 

But.

A flash filled her. A thing long discarded.

Snippets of conversations she’d crafted as a tiny girl, hidden in the high summer grass, a world of her own where only she and her favorite friend lived. The old, ragged hound. The dog with a field of stars in each of his eyes, whose words never made her feel small, or less, or bad. The one she would come to when the world didn’t make sense. And to a little girl, built strange and sharp at the edges, it so rarely made sense.

“You,” she whispered. “It has always been you.”

Had she been standing, or awake, she’d have thrown herself to the ground. In what emotion? Shame? Relief? Sorrow at the fact that she’d never had more than the illusion of a choice in what she was made of? Maybe all of those things.

The Night Wolf’s face came closer. She could see the shadow of the old, ragged hound there, but now, in the flush of her power, so much more. What had been old and tattered had become graceful and mighty, aging in reverse.

“Welcome back, my child.” He took her in his arms, and a thousand days she’d erased from her memory returned, all the subtle things she’d allowed herself to learn before the fear had slammed shut that door. 

“I’m sorry, Father Wolf. Father Hound. I couldn’t be all you hoped, and I left you alone within a locked room for so long.”

“Ours is a patient power, Tahni. What is time against the truth of death? You have returned when your skills are needed most. It is enough. Soon, your true work begins.”

“But what? This ancient enemy? Are they…why I am incarnated as I am?”

The Night Wolf’s muzzle curled in a dismissive frown. “To face them, yes. And more than that, of which is hazy even to me. But tell me, they must know more than you say. The minds of men remember so little. Do they truly not know what they face?”

“Even I cannot hold onto the truth of them. Looking upon their animate darkness threatens to take my mind apart.”

The Night Wolf put his soft snout against her neck. Such comfort arose, something she had forever needed and denied herself. For a time, she simply lost herself. Or, more accurately, found that fraction of herself she hadn’t been able to reconcile for so long. 

“Of course they don’t remember. It is inimical to life, that knowledge. None among mortals could contain it, I suppose. Listen, then, and I will say the words they cannot. They are the Gods That Were. Dispossessed relics of an older age, cast out into the screaming wastes beyond anything a human soul could conceive.”

“What do they want? Why do they come here?”

“To kill. Better still, to die, and be shut of the torment of unending life within their broken shells. Powerful as they are, it is but a flicker of a shadow of what they once were. They were builders of stars, forgers of whole worlds in their time. The spinners of the fabric of the night sky, now miserable remnants haunting the land where the Young Gods arose and engineered their demise.”

Tahni, even in a dream, shivered at the words. “And it falls to me. To kill the ghosts of these withered deities.”

“It is time, and long beyond time. Death comes for all. Even those who once wore the flesh of godhood about them like armor.”

Tahni could feel herself begin to awaken, the light searing the edge of the midnight field within her. “I fear that I am not strong enough. And if I am…what then?”

“You must be equal to this task, Daughter. They are altogether slipped free of their prison, and will gnaw at the world until it is bereft of every living thing, should you fail. As to what may come after, even I cannot say.”

*****

The window at the far high apex of their room filled with the harsh light of a winter’s morning. Tahni’s face, wet and hot and tight, couldn’t relax. It couldn’t relinquish the anguish of the dream. Far more than a dream. A homecoming. The doors within her kicked wide open, so the darkness could burst outward across her whole consciousness. All that she feared, and also needed. 

Bronar’s hand sat gently on her hip, his eyes filled with concern. She’d learned to read him now, to go far below the often bluff and obdurate exterior. All the unspoken thoughts that floated near him like a song only she could hear. His breath came in, and a word began to make its way to his lips. 

Tahni pushed him back and climbed atop his mighty torso, stopping the sound with her mouth. She gripped the sides of his face and kissed him with all her energy. A desperate thing, and with reason. How many mornings would they have? How long until fallen gods, or assassins, or ancient wizards found a way to kill them? How many more times would they two be lucky enough to cheat death’s skeleton grip?

It would never be enough. Not by half. The pain from all her half-healed wounds filled her nerves like the sound of a stone being dragged across rocky ground, but she simply accepted it. Bronar held her hips. She could see the right words behind his eyes. The ones that said he loved her, and it would be so for always. That he would allow her the darkness and the strange silence of being a deliverer of death. 

Tahni took what she needed from him. She moved above him until sweat rolled down her body, and the injuries turned her limbs to lead. She slumped atop him at last, and Bronar held her until her heart finally found its rhythm, and then longer still.

“What changed in the night, my love?”

“Nothing changed. I simply remembered what I had long ago forgotten. All those night cities I had covered with sand within me. I grasped all that cowardice forced me to renounce as a girl.” She knew it couldn’t make sense to another, that her words drove angular and unseen paths through twilight. But her lover did not ask. He simply rolled, still enmeshed with her, and carried on with the task she’d begun.

They were still thus engaged when someone battered against the door and shouted that the Ancient Enemy had come.

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